Skip to main content
University of Wisconsin–Madison

Hillbilly Elegy Panelist Keynote Event Recap

On Monday night, Professors Kathy Cramer, Katherine Magnuson, and Aleksandra Zgierska took to the stage to discuss political, social, and health issues present in Hillbilly Elegy. 

Professor Kathy Cramer, speaking first, noted that this book has raised questions for its possible connection to the 2016 presidential election. However, Cramer hinted towards approaching that perspective with caution.

“It’s become a little bit of a myth that the white working class was responsible for the election of Trump,” Cramer said. “We need to be careful about jumping from this book to assumptions about Donald Trump supporters.”

Professor Kathy Cramer. Image Courtesy of the UW-Madison Faculty website.

Professor Katherine Magnuson followed Cramer’s remarks with a discussion on poverty, especially between generations in rural areas. A map was displayed on her presentation that illustrated how difficult it was for families in different areas to overcome inter-generational poverty.

She mentioned that of those born into the bottom 20 percent of wealth within the United States, only a mere 4 percent make it to the top percentage of wealthy Americans within their lifetime- a concerning statistic.

A preview of the interactive map. Image Courtesy of the New York Times website.

Last to speak about a very highly anticipated topic was Professor Aleksandra Zgierska. She tackled the stigma around drug addiction and the impact that opioids have on Americans today.

She worries that with the increasing numbers of overdoses increasing so rapidly, the problem is going to have to hit an all time low before it starts to get better. However, she still remains hopeful in breaking the stigma around addiction and getting individuals the help that they need.

“There’s a lot we need to do to break the stigma of addiction, to break the misconceptions that exist out there, so that we can help people reach out for help and get the help they need,” Zgierska said.

The event closed with a Q&A session between panelists and audience members. Although brief, questions included those of successful immigration into the US, tips for combating opioid addiction, and if placing “blame” for issues within the political system is a beneficial tactic.

A huge thank you to the panelists who participated in the event and everyone who joined to discuss Hillbilly Elegy. The Go Big Read team enjoyed seeing so many people expressing their interest in Hillbilly Elegy and wanting to discuss these topics with the Madison community.

The recorded video will be posted to the Go Big Read website shortly.

Until next year!