27 January 2013

Midwestern Gothic is a literary magazine founded in 2011. According to their website, “Midwestern Gothic is a quarterly print literary journal out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, dedicated to featuring work about or inspired by the Midwest, by writers who live or have lived here. Midwestern Gothic aims to collect the very best in Midwestern fiction writing in a way that has never been done before, cataloging the oeuvre of an often-overlooked region of the United States ripe with its own mythologies and tall tales.” On Midwestern Gothic’s blog they frequently feature interviews with writers who have been published in the journal. They always ask writers why there has never been a regionalist push for Midwestern literature like there has been in other American regions.

The question is fascinating and important. Anyone who wants to consider the Midwest as a distinct region must grapple with the lack of regional identity. There is, it seems, a rising tide of Midwestern regionalism. Jason Lee Brown edits New Stories from the Midwest. Indiana University Press has a Midwestern History and Culture series, which includes various topics in Midwestern history. Notably in this series is The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia. This 2,000 page book has compiled much of the existing scholarship on the region. Respondents to the Midwestern Gothic questionnaire frequently express happiness that Midwestern Gothic is doing something to rectify the lack of Midwestern regionalism, but few have considered why the push is taking place now.

It may well be that we are in the midst of the Midwestern Renaissance. If other regional renaissances have occurred when the region fell from prominence, then now would be an apt time for the Midwest to reevaluate its recent history. The Midwest was once the industrial heartland of America. What is now the Rust Belt, was once a thriving economic engine that drove the country. Many of these factory jobs were union, and a factory worker could earn a solid and secure middle class living. This unionized industrial middle class made corresponded directly with the American Dream. By working hard, a factory worker could provide a stable life for his family. He could have a house in the suburbs and a cabin up north to go to on the weekends.

One of the reasons for the lack of regional identity is the fact that so much of Midwestern identity has been appropriated for American identity. The Midwest has often looked like what Americans saw themselves as. The Midwest, though, just like the rest of the country is no longer the land of opportunity that it once was. The industrial might of the region migrated to other parts of the country and the world, and it will never be back like it once was. The economic engine of the industrial Midwest was a sturdy platform upon which America’s superpower status rested. Economic power has migrated to finance, and this has proven to be a shaky basis for a superpower’s economy.

The Midwestern Renaissance, then, is concerned with considering the fate of the Midwest in a post-industrial economy. One obvious manifestation is the consideration of the environmental impacts of industrialization. It was Aldo Leopold, a Midwesterner, who first began to ask questions about the environmental consequences of industrialization. Those who have followed him have continued his work, and environment is a persistent theme in contemporary Midwestern literature.

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