Welcome! I’ve plied my trade teaching at universities, participating in public conversations, scribbling essays, and editing book collections of neglected twentieth-century writers. From 2011 to 2016, I was Editor-in-Chief of The Baffler, a magazine of art, fiction, poetry, and essays, and president of the board of The Baffler Foundation, the independent nonprofit that publishes it. I am now writing a biography of C. Wright Mills (1916-1962), the Texas-born sociologist and political writer who coined the term “public intellectual,” and building Lingua Franca Media, Inc., a nonprofit educational institute that I founded in 2017.
I have lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts since 2000, but I was born in Adams County, Pennsylvania, and grew up steeped in an agricultural conservatism that I can credibly call deep-hewn. My grandfather owned a small wholesaling business supplying plumbing, heating, and electrical equipment to local builders. My father enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating high school and went off to fight the communists in Vietnam. My mother worked at Gettysburg College as a secretary.
College at James Madison University, in Virginia, turned me from a young Republican into a Clinton Democrat. A master’s degree in history at George Mason University made my situation even worse. I studied the long mistreatment of African Americans, the persistence of labor unions, the extent of corporate power over daily life, and other facts and incidents that my personal experience had omitted and my textbooks had skipped. At GMU, I worked on a pro-labor history textbook—the first on CD-ROM—called Who Built America? at the moment the Internet made CD-ROMs obsolete. Failing upward in the American fashion, I went on to earn a Ph.D. in history at the University of Rochester and wound up filing a dissertation on C. Wright Mills’s travels in Europe, Russia, and Central and South America.
My family guessed I must be doing something right, career-wise, when I began teaching at Harvard in 2000. That job lasted seven years and opened up new skies in my thinking. In time I taught seminars on Western social thought, the New York Intellectuals, biography and social criticism, dreaming in America, and the cultural life of seventeenth-century New England settlements, among other offerings, at Harvard, Columbia, and Boston College. But the sideline of college teaching crumbled, along with nearly everything else, in 2008. Once it became clear that my failure as a conventional academic professional was complete—that the aristocrats of mind had repelled this incursion from the provinces—I folded my animadversions into an essay collection, Every Fury on Earth and waved goodbye to the campus scene.
The unexpected, as always, turned up. In 2011, I joined with some other disaffiliated promulgators of history by example to relaunch The Baffler magazine into the public sphere. It was great and worthwhile fun figuring out how to marry an eighteenth-century idea (the general interest literary periodical) to twenty-first century technologies (like this website).
Those are my coordinates: rural by birth, historian by training, writer by necessity. The yield so far lies here. If one word cheers you up, it’s all to the good.