The “Hillbilly Elegy” author will make German Village his new home.
Columbus has won the J.D. Vance sweepstakes. The “Hillbilly Elegy” author announced on Tuesday he will relocate from San Francisco to Columbus, choosing the Ohio capital over Cincinnati as his new home base for building upon the success of his bestselling memoir about growing up poor in Ohio.
The announcement came about a month after Vance, 31, revealed his plans to return to Ohio, where he hopes to search for solutions to some of the problems he wrote about in his book, including family trauma, the opioid epidemic and a broken educational pipeline to gainful employment. Vance succeeded despite coming from a community that struggled with those obstacles, graduating from Yale Law School and becoming a principal at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Mithril Capital Management, an improbable journey for a poor kid from the decaying industrial city of Middletown between Dayton and Cincinnati.
Though Cincinnati is closer to his hometown, Vance chose Columbus for its more convenient airport, central location and availability of promising job opportunities for his wife, Usha, a lawyer and fellow Yale Law School graduate. Speaking before an event hosted for him at Miranova by Columbus power couple Larry and Donna James, Vance, an Ohio State graduate, said he and his wife plan to move to German Village with their two dogs, Pippin and Casper.
Vance plans to travel around the state to better understand the issues facing poor Ohioans. “I’m trying to approach this with humility,” said Vance, who’s formed a nonprofit called Our Ohio Renewal with Jai Chabria, a former top advisor for Gov. John Kasich. “These are problems that people who are pretty smart have been trying to work on for a while. I’m at the stage of trying to understand what it is they’ve done, and where they’ve seen opportunities to make things better.” He said he’s not interested in running for public office in Ohio in the near term, but that could be an option many years down the road. “Never say never,” he said.
Vance’s book paints a searing portrait of his family, Scots-Irish Appalachians who migrated to Ohio from Kentucky and struggled with job loss, addiction, cultural isolation and violence. But what’s drawn most of the attention—and turned Vance into a literary sensation whose book has spent the past 24 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list—are his timely insights into why so many poor white folks voted for Donald Trump. Vance is now weighing offers from Hollywood to bring his story to the silver screen. “He’s a fresh voice,” said James, who met the writer through Chabria. “He’s a very thoughtful voice. And obviously it’s a voice that is connecting with people who will listen. And that’s a lost art.”
James and Chabria organized the Tuesday evening event at the Downtown high-rise (where James and his wife live) to help introduce Vance to a diverse group of Columbus leaders. “This is part of getting J.D. out there to make sure he meets the right types of people,” Chabria said, “so that when you want to move the needle, you have the muscle behind it.”
The guest list on Tuesday night included Ohio first lady Karen Kasich, Columbus Partnership CEO Alex Fischer, Columbus Urban League CEO Stephanie Hightower and Columbus Foundation CEO Doug Kridler. When James announced Vance’s plans to move to Columbus, the movers and shakers in the room cheered.
Addressing the crowd, Vance said he doesn’t care as much about status, prestige and credentials as many of the other people he’s met since climbing the social ladder. “If I did, frankly, I probably would move to New York City and just desperately go after the next shiniest jewel in the crown,” said Vance, who expects to move to Columbus by the end of February. “Instead, I always felt the pull to come back to Ohio.”
But is it too early for Columbus to claim victory in the courtship of J.D. Vance? “It’s been like a recruiting battle between Ohio State and Michigan,” Chabria told the crowd, drawing a big laugh. “My guess is it’s not over. I think Cincinnati is going to try and flip this recruit.”