J.D. Vance: 7 things to know about the ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author and U.S. Senate candidate

Middletown native J.D. Vance will contend for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Here are some key things to know about Vance.

Growing up in Middletown

Vance graduated from Middletown High School in 2003 and served in the Marines from 2003-07. He then went on to Ohio State University and Yale Law School.

He said during a 2017 interview on NBC News’ Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly that he was near emotional collapse when his path out of the rust belt took him to Yale Law School.

“I was ... as close to a nervous breakdown as I’ve ever had, just the stress of law school, mom had just had a heroin overdose, I was in love with this girl, Usha, but I didn’t quite know how to be in love with her in the way that I wanted to be,” Vance said.

For a time, he went by James Hamel, and he then took his grandparents’ name for his last name.

Hillbilly Elegy book release

Vance vaulted to national attention in 2016 with the publication of “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” a New York Times best seller that offered insight into the struggles of America’s white working class. The book came out just as Donald Trump seized the GOP presidential nomination with a platform that appealed to white working class voters who felt left behind.

Motivations behind the book

He said in a 2017 appearance at Miami University Middletown that the idea for his book came from questioning his ascendancy from low-income, Appalachian roots to Yale Law School.

“Why did I feel so out of place? Why are people here (Yale) so unlike me?” Vance said.

Previous sociological and political books on America’s largely white, lower income class tended to examine the population, its culture and its struggles through the conventional prisms of either liberal or conservative ideology. But Vance said he wanted to write a book that included both perspectives but most importantly, his own experiences.

“People are much more complex,” he said of the limitations that come with ideologically themed books. “I decided to make these problems real by writing about real people,” including the struggles within his family and his personal challenges growing up.

Moved back to Ohio in 2017

Vance had lived in San Francisco but moved back to Ohio early in 2017.

“I’ve always wanted to move back to Ohio,” Vance said in August 2017. “…I really wanted to work on some of the problems I write about in the book because it’s primarily diagnostic, it’s not prescriptive so I talk about those problems but I don’t necessarily talk about a way out and I think that to work on those solutions is (number) one, important and two, you have to be close to where the problems are.”

He lived in Columbus until June 2018, when he relocated to the East Walnut Hills neighborhood of Cincinnati.

Considered Senate run in 2018

At the time, supporters had concerns about his residency and his critical comments about President Donald Trump, at one point tweeting that he found him reprehensible.

Vance made no secret of the fact that, while living in the Columbus area, he also has a residence in Washington, D.C., where his wife, Usha, was a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

He eventually declined to make the Senate run.

Netflix movie released in 2020

The movie version of “Hillbilly Elegy” was released by Netflix in November 2020.

I’ve definitely gotten a little more used to it but it’s still pretty surreal,” Vance said at the time. “I don’t think I’ll ever quite get used to seeing Mamaw on the screen. Just seeing how close she looks to the actual person, who was of course, an important factor in my life.”

Vance said the experience of watching the Ron Howard-directed movie being produced was something his family tried to enjoy as much as it could.

He said most of the family looked at it as “one of those weird life experiences that’s only going to happen only once so we might as well enjoy it. But it’s definitely been surreal.”

Started new venture capital firm in 2020

Early in 2020, Vance founded the Narya Capital fund in Cincinnati.

Previously, Vance was managing partner of the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, a $150 million early-stage fund.

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