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HILL WOMEN by Cassie Chambers


Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains

by Cassie Chambers

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-984818-91-1
Publisher: Ballantine

A family memoir that celebrates the inspiration of strong women within a rural culture most often characterized as patriarchal.

Chambers, a member of the Democratic National Committee, knows how fortunate she was to experience the world beyond her Appalachian home in Kentucky and, especially, to graduate from Yale and Harvard Law. Yet she could not have done so without the examples of her mother, the first in her family to graduate from high school as well as college, and her grandmother. “I don’t have enough ways to honor them, these women of the Appalachian hills,” she writes. “Women who built a support system for me and the others. The best way I know is to tell their stories.” Chambers provides information about Appalachia in general, including the poverty and lack of resources, the collapse of the coal and tobacco industries, and the drug epidemics that have decimated the region. There are also stories that illuminate the hardworking spirit and flashes of hope among the populace, the women in particular. People in these communities supported each other because they knew that no one else would; “generosity was both an insurance policy and a deeply held value.” But the primary story is personal, as the author chronicles how she left home to discover a world of privilege amid the privileged. After graduating from Yale, she had “figured out the system, the code, the secret password into this world that had seemed so mysterious for so long….But…as I fit in more at Yale, I fit in less in the mountains. I didn’t know how to be both of these people at the same time.” The various narrative strands come together as Chambers returns home to provide legal aid to those who can’t afford it. She relates the stories of women battling poverty, domestic violence, drug habits, and other ills that run rampant throughout the region. Ultimately, it was home in Kentucky that she found her purpose, identity, and voice.

A welcome addition to the expanding literature about coming-of-age in Appalachia.