At the age of seven, Loren Schmidtberger was assigned to a beginner's cow—the gentlest cow in the herd and the easiest for a child just beginning to milk. As he learned to milk with the help of the cow, he also learned the art of living from the unforgiving reality of the Dust Bowl years tempered by the steadfast resilience of his Volga German community.
After he left the family's isolated Kansas farm and throughout his teaching career, Schmidtberger's life was filled with ever-present memories of family and community. Now he offers us those memories in stories told with wry humor and gentle grace. These tales span the decades with a clear-eyed gaze, reflecting a cultural legacy that laid the foundation for a life well-lived, and illustrating the deep cultural changes between America in the 1930s and the America we know today.
Loren Schmidtberger born in 1928 and raised on a farm near Victoria, Kansas. He attended St. Fidelis Minor Seminary in Herman, Pennsylvania, before earning his BA from Fort Hays Kansas State University and his PhD from Fordham University.
Dr. Schmidtberger taught at Saint Peter’s University in New Jersey for fifty-one years, specializing in American literature, especially the works of William Faulkner. He was appointed the Will and Ariel Durant Professor of Humanities in 1991. He is currently Professor Emeritus of English at Saint Peter’s University.
"A riveting book."—The Wall Street Journal
"Essential reading."—David Brooks, New York Times
From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.
But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.
A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.