2018 PEN America Literary Award Finalist!
In her first nonfiction collection, award-winning novelist Rilla Askew casts an unflinching eye on American history, both past and present. As she traverses a line between memoir and social commentary, Askew places herself—and indeed all Americans—in the role of witness to uncomfortable truths about who we are.
Through nine linked essays, Most American: Notes from a Wounded Place evokes a vivid impression of the United States: police violence and gun culture, ethnic cleansing and denied history, spellbinding landscapes and brutal weather. To render these conditions in the particulars of place, Askew spotlights the complex history of her home state. From the Trail of Tears to the Tulsa Race Riot to the Murrah Federal Building bombing, Oklahoma appears as a microcosm of our national saga. Yet no matter our location, Askew argues, we must own our contradictory selves—our violence and prejudices, as well as our hard work and generosity—so the wounds of division in our society can heal.
In these writings, Askew traces a personal journey that begins with her early years as an idealistic teenager mired in what she calls “the presumption of whiteness.” Later she emerges as a writer humble enough to see her own story as part of a larger historical and cultural narrative. With grace and authority she speaks honestly about the failures of the dominant culture in which she grew up, even as she expresses a sense of love for its people.
In the wake of increasing gun violence and heightened national debate about race relations and social inequality, Askew’s reflections could not be more relevant. With a novelist’s gift for storytelling, she paints a compelling portrait of a place and its people: resilient and ruthless, decent but self-deceiving, generous yet filled with prejudice—both the best and the worst of what it means to be American.
“In nine skillfully linked essays, Rilla Askew offers Oklahoma history as a microcosm of our national saga as Americans, insisting—and demonstrating—that our personal and state stories fall within national and global narratives. Askew’s essays are particularly timely today, her themes playing out in the Black Lives Matter movement and in the violence—and intolerance and hate—seething in the 2016 presidential election campaign. Few books offer such a clear, engaging, and revealing evocation of particular Oklahoma sites and scenes, which Askew repeatedly places within the larger, national, and global frame. Most American is an important book, an artful contribution to literature that raises vital issues for Oklahoma and national conversations.”—Barbara Lounsberry, author of The Art of Fact: Contemporary Artists of Nonfiction
“In Most American, Rilla Askew brilliantly captures her feelings, beliefs, and behaviors about race relations. This book should be read by anyone who is trying to move past clichés and establish positive relationships with individuals who come from cultures different from their own.”—George Henderson, author of Race and the University: A Memoir
“Rilla Askew—a storyteller of truth and grace in all she writes, whether novel or essay—moves us to compassionately consider Oklahoma in all its faces. Oklahoma’s is a rough story of theft and coercion, of beauty and tenderness. In Most American, Askew teaches us to see with wiser eyes.”—Joy Harjo, author of Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems and Crazy Brave: A Memoir
“Rilla Askew shows us the inner workings of a concerned, but generous, critic of our state, Oklahoma. Her style is uniquely gracious even as it rebukes. Though she gives with grit, guilt is never far from the possibility of grace. Every Oklahoman ought to read this book.”—Ken Hada, author of Spare Parts
“. . .readers also need the voice and experience of a writer who has wrestled with the white journey through racism and speaks from personal experience to the deep denial of whiteness. Rilla Askew is such a voice. In Most American: Notes from a Wounded Place, she courageously shares her story as a white woman growing up and living through and with the blood and fire of America's racial history over the last century. . . Askew's story is a map, a key, an opening to liberation from the pervasive, sticky, and engulfing ignorance of whiteness.—Story Circle Book Reviews
“A respected novelist muses on the tortured nature of her relationship to the state where she was born and raised. . .Honest and searching, Rilla Askew’s book deftly interweaves a personal narrative about belonging with a larger cultural one. . . An eloquently thoughtful memoir in essays.”—Kirkus Reviews