Living Blue in the Red States

Article excerpt

Living Blue in the Red States David Starkey, Ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.

Starkey, a poet and professor of English, has put together an intriguing collection of essays. Each contributor is an experienced writer. In view of the "red-state/blue state" division that dominates political reporting-however overblown that dichotomy might be-his book is especially timely.

As with all collections, of course, the contents are uneven. In this case, happily, the unevenness has less to do with quality than with theme. Starkey is sensitive to the possibility of criticism about the coherence of themes involved, and provides us with an Afterword to deal with the issue.

He explains that his intention was to compile "left-leaning personal political essays," in which the authors generally reject a "strategy of argumentation" (331). Moreover, in general they avoid dogmatic presentations, and see various sides of issues; they explore, they "occasionally waffle, "and they may ramble-or, as he puts it, "often take a while to make a point" (332). He concedes that he heard criticisms that those on the left tended indeed to be too "fair-minded," and too willing to recognize complexities (4). These criticisms of liberals are common, and quite appropriate, although they certainly do not apply to the extreme left. His reaction to the criticism was that he wanted the book to go beyond current passions, and actually to be literature; in fact, to be "irrevocably beautiful." This required that each essay be, first of all, "a piece of creative nonfiction" (4).

By and large, he succeeded. His pleasure with the collection led him to speculate that the "personal political essay," might in fact be "a distinctive subspecies of creative nonfiction" (331).

Starkey says that if this collection had dealt with living red in blue states, and had been published by a conservative publisher, it likely would have been thesis-driven, and would have stayed "relentlessly on message. …