Cousin connection brings Vance to campus

By Patricia Gallagher Newberry

When Richard Campbell turned to the back of “Hillbilly Elegy,” he wondered whether author J.D. Vance was thanking “our” Bonnie Rose Meibers in his acknowledgements.

The next day, Meibers arrived for an advising appointment and reported that she was, indeed, mentioned in the best-selling memoir because Vance is a first cousin who lived with her family for a while.

In quick order, the chair of the Department of Media, Journalism & Film asked the junior journalism major to invite Vance to campus. Vance accepted – and on Nov. 16 spoke to more than 350 people about his book and his life.

Dubbed the “Trump Whisperer,” Vance told a packed Miami audience that President-Elect Donald Trump is "tapping into something that was very real in this country" this election cycle -- a feeling in white, working-class America that "the gatekeepers are never going to let you in."

JD Vance book signing

J.D. Vance signs copies of “Hillbilly Elegy” after his Nov. 16 talk at the Armstrong Student Center.

In a wide-ranging talk and Q&A, the "Hillbilly Elegy" author offered an analysis of the current political climate through the lens of his hard-scramble upbringing in Middletown, Ohio, and Jackson, Ky. "We are clearly not doing something right," he said, noting that Americans seem to want to tear up the political playbook every eight years.

After graduating from Middletown High School, Vance enlisted in the Marine Corps and served in Iraq, then earned degrees from Ohio State University and Yale Law School. He wrote “Hillbilly Elegy” at the urging of friends and former professors.

The New York Times and The National Review, which both count Vance as a contributor, praised the memoir of the first-time author.

The Times called the book a “compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass that has helped drive the politics of rebellion, particularly the ascent of Donald J. Trump.” The National Review said Vance’s book is “far deeper than an explanation of the Trump phenomenon (which it doesn’t, by the way, claim to be). It’s a harrowing portrait of much that has gone wrong in America over the past two generations.”

Among other reviews, The Wall Street Journal called the book “riveting” and The Economist said “you will not read a more important book about America this year.”

Since its release in June, “Hillbilly Elegy” has sat near the top of The New York Times best-seller list and Vance has become a frequent guest on CNN and many other news programs. He is active on Twitter (@JDVance1) as well with nearly 11,000 followers.

Vance is a principal at a Bay Area venture capital firm called Mithril Capital Management LLC. He and his wife life in San Francisco with their two dogs.

Joining MJF as sponsors of his visit were the Department of Family Science & Social Work; the Individualized Studies/Western Program; the Department of English; the Department of Political Science; and the Humanities Center.

Bonnie Meibers introduced Vance, with about a dozen family members and friends on hand to see them both.