The process through which the American nation-state emerged and then grew into an empire is the subject of A Nation Without Borders, a compendious new work on America’s 19th century by New York University historian Steven Hahn. The third entry in the Penguin History of the United States, A Nation Without Borders takes us from the Jacksonian dawn of American “democracy” to the First World War.
Hahn reminds us that our little postcolonial republic had imperial inclinations even at its birth. From its outset, the country was seeking to seize new lands and resources as well as to consolidate those territories it had already absorbed. That America’s economic and political origins can be found in its imperial expansion—first within the American continent and then abroad—is well-established. But Hahn manages to do something new by showing how the Civil War and the struggle to abolish slavery from this country fits into this narrative as well.
I would love to see English and related departments banish the use of “creative writing” in titling disciplines, tracks, and departments. Instead, bring us all together under the banner of Writing Studies, Writing, or Writing Arts. In my courses, I tell my students at the beginning of the term that they will not hear me use the phrase, and I tell them why. Most of my students are not going to be fiction writers and poets; they are going to be journalists, technical writers, emailers, texters, medical record writers, memo writers, proposal writers, and list writers. And I want them to understand that if they enjoy this work, it is as valuable to them as fiction and poetry.
It’s time we banish the idea that certain writing forms are creative and certain aren’t. And that academic writing is dull. Let’s challenge ourselves to stop using the pernicious phrase creative writing—to produce more public texts that depict the creativity involved with forms besides fiction and poetry, and to expand our fundamental ideas about what it means to be creative.
Deep Singh Blue examines the question of whether Deep or Lily or Deep’s parents or Jag can free themselves from their cages of denial, anger, and despair. Writing with humor and beauty, Sidhu illustrates how Deep’s perception of his racist suburb adjusts to his imperfect yet progressive embrace of philosophy and love — and how he is gradually able to glimpse perfection amid his drab surroundings. Deep shifts from merely regarding “[a] sort of gray gray with flecks of brown and a sort of gray brown with flecks of gray” to noticing “[i]nside the spectrum of universal gray” that there are “whole dramas of colors jostling one another and knocking shoulders.” Perhaps that backward Nazi symbol is, for Deep, a lucky signpost, pointing to the way out of his so-called cage, if only he can adjust his vision to see it. There are no promises of happy endings here, only an acknowledgment of the introspective work an enormous number of people in this country have to do in order to see themselves as more than being “threatened from all sides.” Sidhu’s novel is required reading during this Trump-era nightmare from which we apparently cannot awake.