James David Vance's 2016 memoir about his southern-Ohio childhood has spent more than 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Hillbilly Elegy describes a tightly-knit Appalachian culture that promotes close, family ties. But it is also plagued by substance abuse and domestic violence. Vance's stories are by turns harrowing and hilarious, and the book is due to become a motion picture.
After establishing a new life as a venture capitalist in San Francisco, Vance announced earlier this year that he was moving back to Ohio. Prior to a recent City Club speech, the writer said his return was partially motivated by the success of his book.
"I decided to use that platform to try to talk about some of the things that most matter to me," he said. "And, to do that, I think you need to be home, you have to be on the ground, you have to be close to some of the people that are suffering from some of the problems that you write about."
Vance and his wife moved to Columbus, a few months ago, and he says they may ultimately relocate to Cincinnati to be closer to his family in Middletown. He said the book has received mixed review from people in his hometown.
"Yeah, there were definitely people that worried that I aired the dirty laundry, that maybe I painted too negative a portrait of some of the problems that I write about." But, he adds that was balanced by telling the story of a culture that is often dismissed as flyover country in national media coverage. Vance is pleased that Ron Howard is due to write and direct the film version of Hillbilly Elegy. Howard's show business career was launched by his role as a little boy on the Andy Griffith Show, back in the 1960s. That program described life in a fictional North Carolina small town.
"That was one of the things that I really liked about Ron when we were talking about turning the book into a movie," Vance recalled. "He really thought this is an opportunity to tell a story about a group of people who don't have stories told about them. And that's in some ways what I wanted to do with the book, so it's nice that our goals and interests aligned."