White Flights

White Flights

“White Flights is required reading for white readers and white writers. The rest of us can learn something, too, about how whiteness is not just a privilege, a norm, and a benefit, but also a burden. With these superb essays, Jess Row reveals himself to be an insightful critic of both literature and the American condition.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer

White Flights 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 the book, 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.

“We need this book, now and yesterday.”

Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy and Long Division

“Jess Row’s fierce, tender, wondering voice is the exact sound of fiction-still-mattering, if we allow it. White Flights will change my work, and my life, and for that I’m grateful.”

Jonathan Lethem, author of The Fortress of Solitude and The Feral Detective

“In White Flights Jess Row performs a much-needed analysis of white American writers’ attempts to evade the complexities of racial representation and racism in the US. The landscape of the imagination, like the country itself, he argues with rich insight and brio, is neither equal nor free.”

John Keene, author of Counternarratives

“With care and complexity, White Flights furthers a crucial national conversation on whiteness, white spaces, and racism, and how these concepts define American literature. More than just provoking thought, this book will provoke dialogue and discussion—exactly what we all need.”

Beth Bich Minh Nguyen, author of Pioneer Girl

“In White Flights Jess Row searches the unconscious construction of his own whiteness consciously, as something of a literary game with the most serious stakes and yet played with a seemingly light touch. The essays here are like snakes dancing along the blade of a knife, or tightrope walkers bursting into laughter, mid-rope, or the deep plunge into a topic that takes you, thrillingly, out the other side, to places familiar and strange at the same time. These are brilliant, sweeping, intimate delights–and afterward, you may never read the same way again.” 

Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night and How to Write An Autobiographical Novel

“White Flights confirms Jess Row’s ability to quickly grasp large political issues and conflicts; it shows, too, a reflexive distrust of received wisdom, and a bracing honesty. I am convinced that it will be a major literary and intellectual intervention, clarifying the real stakes in what we too complacently call ‘identity politics’ and insisting on a fresh reckoning with American history and its main beneficiaries.”

Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger and Temptations of the West

“Gutsy, capable, urgent, innovative, and timely: these elegant essays think and write across lines of race in American culture. The perception of whiteness in this country is charged and complex, and the author’s project is to address these complexities and further the critical conversation. The essays move the ball down the field, mixing personal humility with a deep and resourceful reading of critical race theory, literature, and American history. Row examines strenuous naivete, white flights of fancy, and unreconciled and avoidant imagination, and suggests an intriguing concept of reparative writing….A soul-searching treatise on the way race underpins our stories in life and on the page.”

Judge’s citation, Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant