Midwest Futures

By Phil Christman

“Phil Christman is a beautiful writer with a sharp analytical mind—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


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


More praise for Midwest Futures:

"To write about the Midwest is to risk joining a succession of truisms that tread and retread the same ground. In Midwest Futures, Christman sidesteps this fate. Rather than try to pin the region to a single argument or narrative, he makes a mosaic out of its multiplicity." —Megan Marz, The Washington Post

"A combination of history, memoir, reportage, and lit-crit that taught me a lot about a region I’ve reported on....Check it out."—James Fallows, The Atlantic

"As the country stumbles through ever-growing crises, Christman’s book taps into a broader conversation about the future of the country—of how it’s shaped and who is shaping it—and in doing so, offers an extraordinarily insightful, potential path forward for the Midwest."—José Pablo Fernández García, Midstory

"This is a fantastic book by one of the most underappreciated writers of my generation on a topic that isn’t easy to write about. It’s such a joy that I zipped through it in a single day."—Scott Beauchamp, The Washington Examiner

"Equal parts lyrical journalism, historical reckoning, and vision statement, Midwest Futures is slight in size yet sprawling in scope....Drawing from a reservoir of hope, Christman stakes claim to his corner of a growing New Midwestern canon, alongside the likes of Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland and Hanif Abdurraqib’s poetry as documentary."—Aarik Danielsen, Rain Taxi Review of Books

"Christman excels at pointing out the doublethink powering American endeavors and slathering deodorant on its collective soul."—Dan Kelly, Third Coast Review

Christman's text is pointed and often very funny as he ponders a subject that has been hiding in plain sight. ... A provocative analysis. You'll never think of Peoria in the same way again. Kirkus Reviews

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
Commonweal Notable Book of 2020 —Anthony Domestico


APRIL 7, 2020 | ISBN: 9781948742610 | HISTORY | HARDCOVER | 5 X 7.25 | 160 PAGES