Who is J.D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy?  

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caroline-harrison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

J.D. Vance (born James Donald Bowman) is the author of Hillbilly Elegy. In his memoir, Vance discusses multiple generations of his family, beginning with his grandparents (Papaw and Mamaw). Vance’s mother, Bev Vance, had a turbulent childhood and a difficult life. She was forced to drop out of high school when she became pregnant with Vance’s older sister, and her life began to go off the rails when she became addicted to drugs. Vance’s father abandoned the family early on, and Bev had several boyfriends and husbands over the years. As her drug problem worsened, Bev’s behavior became increasingly erratic until, one day, she threatened to crash the car with young Vance inside. After this event, Mamaw and Papaw (Vance’s grandparents) became his primary caregivers. Vance attributes his personal success to Mamaw and Papaw’s positive and stabilizing influence—an advantage most of his friends and neighbors in Appalachia did not have. Vance went through a difficult period in adolescence, especially after Papaw died. With Mamaw’s help, however, Vance was able to graduate high school and join the Marine Corps. After serving in Iraq, Vance attended Ohio State and then went on to receive a law degree from Yale Law School.

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Hillbilly Elegy

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