American author J.D. Vance recently rose to prominence as the voice of the “Rust Belt” communities that following the 2016 presidential election became such a conversational focus for so many Americans. Despite the enormous success of his 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy, Vance never planned on becoming a writer nor a political contributor, both roles which he seems to be filling today.
J.D. Vance was born in Middleton, Ohio, in the heart of what is known as the “rust belt,” and then later in the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. After graduating from high school, Vance first spent a tour with the Marine Corps and served in Iraq before going on to attend the Ohio State University and then later Yale Law School. While attending Yale, Vance said he began writing Hillbilly Elegy to further explore the disconnect he was experiencing as a third-year law student from an area not well-represented at the school or in the field of law.
Vance writes of his experiences as the “outsider,” and his awareness that the towns in which he grew up had “…grown further disconnected from institutions of work…and…extraordinarily pessimistic” as the citizens faced staggering economic challenges affecting mostly blue-collar communities. Vance became fascinated by both the economic aspect of the shift but also the communal and cultural disconnect resulting from it; thus, the journey back to his roots began.
Shortly after publication, Hillbilly Elegy topped the New York Times Best Seller list and made J.D. Vance a national celebrity. Today, in addition to leading his Silicon Valley investment firm, Vance frequently appears on CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News as a contributor and commentator.