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Radical Voices From the American West

Feb. 5, 2014

man wearing a hat and standing in a field of flowers

Michael C. Steiner, author of "Regionalists on the Left: Radical Voices From the American West."

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Michael C. Steiner is passionate about regionalism in the American West. So passionate you can hear it in his voice as he discusses the 10-year journey it took to complete the 2013 book "Regionalists on the Left: Radical Voices From the American West" published by University of Oklahoma Press.

"Maybe its because I came from Minnesota to California," says the professor emeritus of American studies as he thumbs through the book's 328 pages, which focus on regionalism during the 1930s and 1940s. "There are two basic criticisms against regionalism: it's dangerous and it's dying. It's a double whammy and it is wrong.

"Regionalism is an essential variable of human experience, and to judge it as good or bad, laudable or lamentable, would be like imagining work or leisure, race or gender, or any other basic cultural category as a completely positive or negative force."

Steiner edited the book into four segments: the Midwest, Great Plains and Texas, the Northern West and California. The essays cover 15 writers, historians, folklorists, poets and artists, including Texas folklorist Americo Paredes, native Californian John Steinbeck, and Steiner's capstone chapter on his intellectual hero, California journalist Carey McWilliams.

Among the book's chapter authors are two of Steiner's faculty peers: Jack Mearns, chair and professor of psychology, who wrote "John Sanford's Radical Regionalism: The Universal of the Particular"; and Stephen J. Mexal, acting chair and associate professor of English, comparative literature and linguistics, who contributed "Toward a Transnational Liberalism of the Left: Positive Liberties and the West in Carlos Bulosan's 'America.'"

"These people were progressives, they were devoted to particular parts of this nation and looked to the future," Steiner explains. "They were not trying to evoke a world that didn't exist. They were egalitarian dreamers who laid the foundation for a multicultural regionalism that is increasingly relevant today."

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