The American Imagination (working title) is an in-progress project about American storytelling. In the last few years I have been using regional myths, tall tales and legends as entry points to explore how fantastical storytelling gives shape to both individual and national identity in the United States.
Fantastical stories present a disarming entryway from which to approach some of America's most divisive existential questions. From tales of flying saucers that followed the detonation of the world's first nuclear bomb in New Mexico, to a myth about enslaved people growing wings and flying away from a life of bondage in Georgia, stories with fantastical elements tend to contain potent fragments of truth.
When future-facing, fantastical stories provide ways to work through fears brought on by nascent technologies — from gene-editing, space travel to man-made dystopian wastelands. As science and knowledge continue to eclipse the wonder of magic, stories of far-away worlds and future utopias can be understood as the first tendrils of manifestation.
Often disguised as entertainment, fantastical stories are especially adept at addressing unspeakable pain, holding the fears and aspirations of a time and place. They allow for hyperbole in celebrating triumphs and provide an analgesic buffer in making sense of tragedies.
America's storytelling tradition is expansive, born out of countless colliding, merging and overlapping storylines. The overarching goal of The American Imagination project is to serve as a reminder that our stories are very much alive, a form of cultural DNA passed from one generation to the next. Stories show us who we have been, who we are now, and who we are becoming.
Visit the dedicated project website at www.americanimagination.com.