Jones was born in Marble, Cherokee County, and lived there until he was 12, when his family moved to Brasstown in Clay County. “We were farmers, living on rented land,” he said. One of eight children, Jones served a brief stint in the Navy after high school, and then worked as a farmer and horse trainer before enrolling as an undergraduate at Berea College.
Jones began writing in college, but did not publish until several years later. He has been a prolific writer with literally dozens of published articles concerning Appalachian culture and its people to his credit.
One characteristic of Jones’ writing is optimism about the resiliency of mountain people and their culture, says Ron Eller, former director of the Appalachian Center at the University of Kentucky.
Jones’ message has been that Appalachia should be judged by its own core values - family, land, traditionalism - rather than by more mainstream values of accumulation, wealth and power, Eller said. “In many ways, he represents the best of Appalachia, the part of Appalachian society that values people for what they really are.”
In his years of writing and speaking about the region, Jones has become one of its best-known and best-loved figures. In addition to the numerous articles he has written about Appalachia, he has also authored nine books, including multiple volumes on regional humor.