My first book, Violet America (Iowa 2013), attempts a literary history of the red/blue cultural divide. Beginning with the Federal Writers’ Project and extending to the Oprah Book Club, Violet America tracks a spirit of social welfare through post-New Deal American fiction and finds that, despite the rise of neoliberal privatization and drop in participatory culture, a “regional cosmopolitan” sensibility persists in American literature. This sensibility (which I see in the works of James Agee, Jack Kerouac, Maxine Hong Kingston, Russell Banks, Jonathan Franzen, and others) resists red/blue binaries—violets an America otherwise committed to polarization.
My current book project, "Missing the Blackout: Seventies Nostalgia in Twenty-First-Century Fiction and Film," started as an attempt to figure out why the 1970s loom so large in the popular imagination. Writers and filmmakers (and instagram filters) turn to the 1970s as though to ground zero of such expressions of empowerment/perseverance as graffiti, punk rock, and hip-hop. Historians turn to it as though to the scene of a crime—the murder of working-class solidarity and/or progressive politics in the U.S.
The decade thus is entering the record as a period wherein U.S. culture failed to articulate a counter-ideology to neoliberalism but that, in the process of failing, produced an archive of nostalgia triggers, artifacts that carry traces of the feeling of life in a world not yet totally privatized.
Such nostalgia has the potential to ignite impulses toward solidarity and civic duty, toward commitment to the idea that we are none of us free from one another.