By Phil Christman
April 7, 2020
What does the future hold for the Midwest? A vast stretch of fertile farmland bordering one of the largest concentrations of fresh water in the world, the Midwestern US seems ideally situated for the coming challenges of climate change. But it also sits at the epicenter of a massive economic collapse that many of its citizens are still struggling to overcome.
The question of what the Midwest is (and what it will become) is nothing new. As Phil Christman writes in this idiosyncratic new book, ambiguity might be the region's defining characteristic. Taking a cue from Jefferson’s grid, the famous rectangular survey of the Old Northwest Territory that turned everything from Ohio to Wisconsin into square-mile lots, Christman breaks his exploration of Midwestern identity, past and present, into 36 brief, interconnected essays. The result is a sometimes sardonic, often uproarious, and consistently thought-provoking look at a misunderstood place and the people who call it home.
A former substitute teacher, shelter worker, and home health aide, Phil Christman currently lectures in the English department at University of Michigan. His work has appeared in The Hedgehog Review, Commonweal, The Christian Century, The Outline, and other places. He holds an MFA from the University of South Carolina-Columbia. He is the editor of the Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing, a journal sponsored by the University of Michigan's Prison Creative Arts Project.
Praise for Midwest Futures:
“Christman's text is pointed and often very funny as he ponders a subject that has been hiding in plain sight. ... Though much of the tone is dark and acerbic, the author finds glimmers of hope in the region as "a moral frontier," where Americans might best face the considerable challenges of capitalism and climate change. A provocative analysis. You'll never think of Peoria in the same way again.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Phil Christman is a beautiful writer with a sharp analytical mind. Both are on display in Midwest Futures, a book about culture, identity, space and place in the American Midwest. As our public discourse reckons with the categorical descriptions of a diverse, changing population, it is more important than ever to have more precise interpretations of which 'we, the people' are being leveraged and for what ends. Midwest Futures reveals the diversity of the region’s people, opinions, and experiences. Christman’s writing, as always, is readable, engaging, and funny as hell, while also maintaining intellectual rigor. You don’t have to be a Midwesterner to feel connected to this book and its people.”
—Tressie McMillan Cottom, National Book Award Finalist and author of Thick: And Other Essays
“Midwest Futures is a remarkably rich and clear-eyed meditation on the region. While the Midwest has long been bound up with the myth of national destiny, Christman reminds us that its history was neither fated nor inevitable, but chosen by human actors. What emerges is a place far more protean and variable than the caricatures that so often dominate the popular imagination. In thinking deeply and imaginatively about the region's history—its injustices and inequities, its social experiments and utopian visions—Christman uncovers a multiverse of possible futures, asking us to consider what might have been and what still may be. ” —Meghan O ’Gieblyn, author of Interior States
“An affectionately critical exploration of a place wrung out of easy epiphanies. Phil Christman’s deeply funny and clear-eyed Midwest Futures is the antidote to outsider appraisals and lets us see the Midwest as place, a template, a symbol, but most of all, as region where people live on the edge of possibility.” —Elizabeth Catte, author of What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia
“Phil Christman is mapping new territory. He is surveying the intricacies of the forgotten Midwest, and he is an expert guide, taking the reader, grid-by-grid, through a landscape we must know better.” —Jon Lauck, Editor-in-Chief, Middle West Review