From Warm Center to Ragged Edge

From Warm Center to Ragged Edge

The Erosion of Midwestern Literary and Historical Regionalism, 1920–1965


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2017
266 pages, 6 x 9 inches
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“...this is an important book and these days, especially, deserves to be read and debated.”—Michael Dirda

From Warm Center to Ragged Edge is a long overdue defense and celebration of midwestern literature, culture, and history against the starchy criticism of eastern elites. Jon Lauck has produced a robust and scholarly work that made me want to cheer again the enduring prose of Sinclair Lewis, the informed defense of Stuart Pratt Sherman, and the timeless portrait of Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson. My own prairie roots have served me well in the intellectual and concrete canyons of the eastern seaboard and it is good to be reminded why.”—Tom Brokaw

“During the first years of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, 1918 to 1929, eight of eleven of the writers honored were midwesterners. One, Booth Tarkington, won twice. Jon Lauck documents the response of major eastern critics of the period to this extraordinary cultural flowering—that it was all an attack on the barrenness of the culture of the Midwest. The consensus that formed around their view of this vast region persists, to the detriment of American history as a whole. Lauck has done valuable work in exposing the origins of an extraordinarily potent cliché.”—Marilynne Robinson, author, Gilead

“At its core, this work is a timely appeal for a reconsideration of unrestrained cosmopolitanism and a compelling argument for the cultural vitality of an unjustly neglected—and maligned—sector of the American republic. A philosophically astute defense of regionalism's virtues.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Jon Lauck’s learned survey of midwestern regionalism rebuts strident critics, recovers forgotten voices, and revitalizes our appreciation for regionalist perspectives. Read this book to engage with the midwestern past and to imagine a new midwestern history.”—Stephen Aron, author, The American West: A Very Short Introduction 

“In this lucid appraisal, Jon Lauck chronicles the silencing of the ‘rooted voices from the solid center’ of the nation, the American Midwest. A discerning intellectual history of the demise of regionalism in American letters, as well as an impassioned argument for the importance of local attachments in a global age.”—John Mack Faragher, Howard R. Lamar professor emeritus of history and American studies, Yale University

During the half-century after the Civil War, intellectuals and politicians assumed the Midwest to be the font and heart of American culture. Despite the persistence of strong currents of midwestern regionalism during the 1920s and 1930s, the region went into eclipse during the post–World War II era. In the apt language of Minnesota’s F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Midwest slid from being the “warm center” of the republic to its “ragged edge.”

This book explains the factors that triggered the demise of the Midwest’s regionalist energies, from anti-midwestern machinations in the literary world and the inability of midwestern writers to break through the cultural politics of the era to the growing dominance of a coastal, urban culture. These developments paved the way for the proliferation of images of the Midwest as flyover country, the Rust Belt, a staid and decaying region. Yet Lauck urges readers to recognize persisting and evolving forms of midwestern identity and to resist the forces that squelch the nation’s interior voices.

Table of contents: 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS  xi

INTRODUCTION

The Promise of Midwestern Regionalism  1

CHAPTER 1

The Myth of the Midwestern “Revolt from the Village”  11

CHAPTER 2

The Failed Revolt Against the Revolt  37

CHAPTER 3

The Decline of Midwestern History  69

CONCLUSION

Against Subordination, Toward Revival  101

NOTES  111

INDEX  247

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