On a question I’m pondering for my next book—and how you can help!
In last year’s Fall Forward series, I wrote about my next book-in-progress, Hard-Won Hope: How American Authors Find Light in Our Darkest Histories. Despite everything else that’s happened over the last year, inspiring and challenging, planned and unexpected, I’ve made some good progress on that project, and particularly on the extended readings of pairs of 20th and 21st century texts (mostly novels, with one play and one work of nonfiction thrown in) that currently comprise its chapters. By the time this post appears I should be finished with the last couple such readings (one on a pair of texts that deal with the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, one on two 21st century texts about African genocides and refugees), and thus with a full draft of the book in that form.
But since I began this book, I’ve shifted much more fully and thoroughly to a public scholarship model, to the goal (however idealized it might be) that everything I write could connect and speak to broad public audiences. And while I certainly believe that the books on which my chapters focus should be read by American audiences, that in fact (to restate my project’s central argument) they offer vital lessons for how we can engage with our darkest histories and move into a more hopeful future, I also believe that my chapters will need more contextual materials around those extended close readings in order to engage with multiple audiences. There are a few main possibilities for what those contextual materials might entail: biographical and publication/response details about the authors and texts; further discussion of the historical and cultural themes on which the books focus; connections to current events or contemporary debates that relate to those themes.
I don’t think I could bring in all those contexts at equal length, and I do think I should be consistent across the chapter with what type I include (although if you disagree, feel free to say so!). So my question for you, AmericanStudies audience that you are, is which of those three contexts would be of the most interest to you, to frame readings of particular books. More about the authors and the texts’ publications and receptions? More about the histories and cultural issues to which the books connect? Or more about aspects of our current moment and society that make these books and themes particularly salient? I’d love to hear your take on what would help make those extended readings more interesting and meaningful, what would help make this book speak to you as fully as it could. If you have thoughts but don’t want to leave a comment, feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Thanks!
Final autumn event tomorrow,
PS. I’d love to hear your thoughts! And any fall plans of yours you want to share?
Hey Ben, Just some initial thoughts to start. I could see some public benefit from a book that, for lack of a better term, had a certain "how to" component. In other words, what do these great works of art and their creators have to teach us about how we ourselves can face the darker aspects of human nature and not give into despair. What, psychologically and behaviorally speaking, do these protagonists, these artists, do to maintain hope and energy and perseverance in the face of darkness. How do they incorporate pain, death, cruelty into their worldview in a way that is not defeating and/or depressing, but might actually be energizing? How do they uniquely see the world? And where do they find their strength? And how can the reader apply that wisdom to their own life (whether they be an activist, a scholar, or your everyday college kid)? I apologize if these thoughts are not well developed, but I wanted to give a quick response in between commitments. Oh, and the book sounds fantastic. Can't wait to hear more.ReplyDelete
What a great comment, Mike! Thanks so much. I'll keep you posted, and feel free to send more thoughts if you have a chance. Very helpful and appreciated!ReplyDelete
Thanks Ben, Sounds like a fantastic and unique book.ReplyDelete