Discover more from Letters from an American
June 10, 2023
Taking the evening off, as I spent the entire day with my family (which was a really nice antidote to the firehose of this week’s events). But there is some personal news to share….
People have noted that I have been posting the letters earlier than usual lately, and have wondered if everything is okay. First of all, thank you for your concern, and second, yes, it is.
When I first started writing these letters in September 2019, they concerned only Trump’s first impeachment. I wrote them after teaching and posted them usually no later than 10:00. I vividly remember the first time I stayed in the office until midnight, thinking that was really too much and it couldn’t happen again.
But then, as the letters began to involve more aspects of the news, they got later and later. Stories from the Trump White House often dropped after Hannity’s show went off the air at 10:00, and then, once Biden took office and news dumps went back to normal hours, I started writing a book. That meant the letter writing stayed late. And got later.
And that is my personal news. The reason the letters are posting earlier again is that the book is done.
It is called Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America, and in 30 short chapters in three sections for a total of 250 pages of text, it tries to explain how we got to this political moment…and how we get out. There is a lot of material in it you all will recognize—on the Trump years, for example, and how we got to them and how we got through them—but there is a lot that is new, too, reflecting how the last several years have made me reconceive the way I think about the meaning of history. In the end, this book makes an argument for a new understanding of U.S. history as an explicitly democratic history, kept alive primarily by marginalized Americans who have worked to expand our rights and bring the principles of the Declaration of Independence to life.
Writing the book was a very odd experience. Because I was writing so much else, I could never focus on the book exclusively as I have done for previous books. I would write in the mornings, but every afternoon I would have to pack up whatever was in front of me and start working on the nightly letter. When one chapter was done, I would throw it aside and ignore it while working on the next. It was almost as if I was seeing the project only in my peripheral vision while looking intently at what was in front of me.
I took a break from the manuscript before picking it up for the second draft, and when I did turn back to it, I discovered something curious: it was almost as if the chapters had been chatting together while I ignored them, and they demanded an entire reworking. In the end, I rewrote close to 80% of the manuscript and developed a much different thesis than I had set out to write two years ago. It was rather as if I had seen things more clearly out of the corner of my eye than if I had been looking directly at them.
The manuscript turned into a voyage of discovery for me, and it ended up feeling very much like I didn’t have a lot of control over it: I was just bringing a definitive shape to the questions, comments, concerns, and hopes of so many people who have been part of the crazy journey of the past three and a half years.
It will come out in mid-September and I think it is…not bad, which is about as far as any writer will—or should—go on a new book.
I am extraordinarily relieved to have this project off my desk, and hope to write earlier going forward, although always with an eye to the idea that each letter tries to encapsulate a full 24-hour period in the nation’s historical record.
There are new projects in the works, but for now a heartfelt thank you to all of you who have cheered me, the letters, and this new book on, all in the midst of trying to protect our democracy. It’s been quite a journey already, and I am eager to see what comes next.
Oh, and here’s the cover. It’s not an accident that it’s a sunrise.
I’ll be back at the national news tomorrow.