My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Monday, November 30, 2020

November 30, 2020: Stories of AIDS: Mark Doty

[December 1 is World AIDS Day, an occasion to remember not just the global epidemic overall, but also and especially the individual and communal stories within it. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy the commemoration and a few of those stories, leading up to a weekend post on whether and how we can learn from those stories in our own ongoing pandemic moment.]

On three genres through which a preeminent contemporary writer considers art, sexuality, and identity.

1)      Poetry: I wrote about two of Mark Doty’s poems, “Faith” (1995) and “Turtle, Swan” (1989), in this long-ago post on Plath, Doty, and the confessional. As I argued there, Doty’s poems, like Plath’s, consistently blend seemingly overt autobiographical moments and themes with dense and ambiguous imagery, offering us glimpses into identity but doing so through a clearly poetic and symbolic lens. As a result, Doty’s poems both have a great deal to tell us about topics like gay identity and the AIDS epidemic and yet resist being read in any overt or straightforward way as social activism or political polemic about those issues. While I’m more familiar with such earlier works of Doty’s than with his subsequent decades of continued and acclaimed poetic production (he won the 2008 National Book Award for Poetry, among many other awards), I have little doubt that his more recent works likewise engage identity questions with the slant perspective that all of the best poetry can provide.

2)      Memoir: Each of Doty’s three memoirs—Heaven’s Coast (1996), Firebird (1999), and Dog Years (2007)—represents a distinct version of how this complex genre can engage with identity questions. Firebird is the most conventional autobiographical work, tracing Doty’s early years (mainly between ages 6 and 16) and dealing in particular with his gradual realization of his sexuality. Heaven’s deals in depth with one particular, crucial period and subject, Doty’s multi-layered thoughts after he learns in 1989 that his partner Wally Roberts has HIV. And Dog Years focuses on two longtime canine companions and how they helped Doty cope with his partner’s experiences with that terrible illness, along with many other life challenges and stages. Taken together, these three acclaimed texts form a compelling overall and evolving autobiography, one powerfully linked to issues of sexuality and AIDS but far from solely defined by them.

3)      Essay: Doty’s two book-length essays—Still Life with Oysters and Lemon (2001) and The Art of Description (2010)—are seemingly quite distinct from any of these other works. Both concern objects and perception: Still Life through a focus on 17th century Dutch painters; and Description through Doty’s own decades of experiences attempting to “render experience through language.” While these books are different from Doty’s others, both in genre and in focus, they thus also offer a lens on understanding his lifelong writing project, and for that matter the work of all writers. “It sounds like a simple thing, to say what you see,” Doty begins The Art of Description; any of us who write for a living know that doing so is anything but simple, but it’s also a vital part of literature and culture, and across his many decades, genres, and works Mark Doty has consistently managed to bridge the gap and say things that illuminate his and our worlds very powerfully.

Next AIDS story tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Stories or histories you’d share?

Saturday, November 28, 2020

November 28-29, 2020: November 2020 Recap

[A Recap of the month that was in AmericanStudying.]

October 31-November 1: Robin Field’s Guest Post on Toni Morrison & The Rape Novel: I was fortunate enough to share two great Guest Posts this month—here’s the first!

November 2: Pivotal Elections: 1800: An election week series kicks off with the election when everything could have changed—and, thankfully, didn’t.

November 3: Pivotal Elections: 1860: The series continues with a contemporary comparison that’s become even more ominous and what we can do about it (for more, see the weekend post).

November 4: Pivotal Elections: 1876: What really happened in 1876 and why it’s a vital lesson for 2020, as the series rolls on.

November 5: Pivotal Elections: 1932: A frustrating undercurrent to a landslide election, and why the positive remain nonetheless.

November 6: Pivotal Elections: 1968: The series concludes with a striking and influential choice, and why it’s far from the whole story.

November 7-8: Pivotal Elections: 2020 and the New Lost Cause: A special post reflecting on the (then still unfolding) 2020 results, and on the danger (still unfolding) of a new white supremacist lost cause.

November 9-13: AmericanStudies’ 10th Anniversary and Online Public Scholarship: For the blog’s 10th anniversary, a special post reflecting on where we started, where we’ve gone, and where we go from here.

November 14-15: Anniversary Acknowledgments: Accompanying the anniversary post, a handful of thanks to folks who have meant so much to the blog’s first decade.

November 16: Serial Killer Studying: Bundy and Dahmer: A serial killer series kicks off with how two pop culture genres portray monstrous murderers.

November 17: Serial Killer Studying: H.H. Holmes: On the anniversary of his arrest, the series continues with two layers to the infamous murderer beyond the 1893 World’s Fair.

November 18: Serial Killer Studying: Executioner Songs: Two striking similarities and one important difference in a pair of pop culture texts, as the series slays on.

November 19: Serial Killer Studying: Lizzie Borden: What we’ll never know about the famous crime, and what it can help us understand nonetheless.

November 20: Serial Killer Studying: Dexter: The series concludes with antiheroes, vigilante justice, and serial killers.

November 21-22: Laura Franey’s Guest Post on The Keepers: My second great Guest Post this month, Laura Franey on the absent serial killer in the Netflix true crime documentary!

November 23: Book Thanksgivings: Jon Sisk and Rowman & Littlefield: A Thanksgiving series on my forthcoming book starts with my wonderful R&L editor.

November 24: Book Thanksgivings: Joan McClymer and the Women’s Circle Breakfast: The series continues with one of the many places I’ve gotten to share these histories, and the woman who made it happen.

November 25: Book Thanksgivings: Keri Leigh Merritt and Twitter: The wonderful scholar who blurbed my book and the social media community where I connected to her, as the series thanks on.

November 26: Book Thanksgivings: Podcasts: Three distinct and complementary podcasts where I’ve had the chance to talk Of Thee I Sing.

November 27: Book Thanksgivings: Y’all: The series concludes with my most heartfelt thanks, to you all!

Next series starts Monday,


PS. Topics you’d like to see covered in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to contribute? Lemme know!

Friday, November 27, 2020

November 27, 2020: Book Thanksgivings: Y’all

[For this year’s Thanksgiving series, I wanted to share a few words of appreciation related to my forthcoming book Of Thee I Sing. I’d love to hear what y’all are thankful for in comments!]

I’ve said it many times before, but I never get tired of saying it: y’all, my fellow AmericanStudiers, are the reason I think and write about these things. I’ve been able to connect to many different communities and conversations over my decade of public scholarly writing, online especially but also in adult learning programs and book talks and organizations and so many other spaces. But as I tried to indicate in my 10-year anniversary post earlier this month, this blog is not just where that all began—it has been by far the most consistent and central place for me to do this work, and has been a profound influence on every aspect of my career, certainly including my books. So I’m deeply thankful for it and for y’all, and would just ask (as I also say all the time, and always mean) for you to say hi, in comments or by email, if you get a chance!

November Recap this weekend,


PS. What are you thankful for (other than the approaching end of this damn year)?