Questions of class and gender in Appalachia have, in the wake of the 2016 presidential election and the runaway success of Hillbilly Elegy, moved to the forefront of national conversations about politics and culture. Drawing from my experiences as a first generation college student turned college professor, I offer my commentary on these themes in a family memoir set in West Virginia coal country.
In this presentation I will read selections from my forthcoming book 12 Rounds in Lo's Gym (WVU Press / March 2018). Lo’s Gym is the story of my father, Mike “Lo” Snyder, a fifth generation West Virginia coal miner who opened a series of makeshift boxing gyms with the goal of providing local at-risk youth with the opportunities that eluded his adolescence. It offers a rich portrait of boxing in Appalachia and of several strands of local culture tangled up with it: work, church, masculinity, and family life. Lo's Gym is boxing at its lowest level: toughman competitions, amateur fight cards, fighters who will never make it to television. Taking these stories as my starting point, I interweave histories of the region, offering a rhetorical analysis of the costs—both financial and cultural—of an economy built around extractive industries.
Part love letter to Appalachia, part rigorous social critique, 12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym — and its narrative of individual and community strength in the face of globalism’s headwinds— offers a welcome corrective to popular narratives that blame those in the region for their troubles.