White Flights: Race, Fiction, and the American Imagination (Graywok Press, August 2019) is a meditation on whiteness in American fiction and culture from the end of the civil rights movement to the present. At the heart of this collection of essays, Jess Row ties “white flight”—the movement of white Americans into segregated communities, whether in suburbs or newly gentrified downtowns—to white writers setting their stories in isolated or emotionally insulated landscapes, from the mountains of Idaho in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping to the claustrophobic households in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Row uses brilliant close readings of work from well-known writers such as Don DeLillo, Annie Dillard, Richard Ford, and David Foster Wallace to examine the ways these and other writers have sought imaginative space for themselves at the expense of engaging with race.
White Flights aims to move fiction to a more inclusive place, and Row looks beyond criticism to consider writing as a reparative act. What would it mean, he asks, if writers used fiction “to approach each other again”? Row turns to the work of James Baldwin, Dorothy Allison, and James Alan McPherson to discuss interracial love in fiction, while also examining his own family heritage as a way to interrogate his position. A moving and provocative book that includes music, film, and literature in its arguments, White Flights is an essential work of cultural and literary criticism.
In addition to White Flights, Jess Row is the author of two collections of short stories, The Train to Lo Wu and Nobody Ever Gets Lost, and a novel, Your Face in Mine. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Tin House, Conjunctions, Ploughshares, Granta, n+1, and elsewhere, has been anthologized three times in The Best American Short Stories, and has won two Pushcart Prizes and a PEN/O. Henry Award. He has received a Guggenheim fellowship, an NEA fellowship in fiction, a Whiting Writers Award, and a Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant. In 2007, he was named a “Best Young American Novelist” by Granta. His nonfiction and criticism appear often in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, Threepenny Review, and Boston Review, among other venues. He teaches full time at The College of New Jersey and occasionally also at NYU. He lives in New York City with his wife and their two children. A student of Zen for 25 years, he is an ordained senior dharma teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen.
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