Stories of Small Town America

Kacey Musgraves is a two-time Grammy winner who’s toured with Katy Perry, while JD Vance is the author of the new memoir Hillbilly Elegy, which recounts his life growing up in blue-collar Appalachia. On the surface, they’re pretty different. Yet they’re both storytellers who paint nuanced portraits of what America is like in small towns, depicting the lives of working-class folks who rarely land in the spotlight. “I find inspiration in bringing light to subjects that are a little bit harder to talk about,” says Musgraves. “I’ve always loved that about country music.”

It was essential to see a world outside of sleepy Golden, Texas, where Musgraves grew up, and the Rust Belt towns in Kentucky and Ohio where Vance spent his early years: “To be successful, to me, meant to get out,” he remembers. Yet after going to law school at Yale and settling in San Francisco, he finds that there’s still something about small-town living that he longs for. “The more time I spend away from home,” he says, “the better home feels.” Both credit their families, who have stayed behind in their hometowns, with keeping them from getting too big for their britches. “I try to remind myself that this is where I came from,” Vance says. “This is who I really am.”

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