An assortment of essays by writers who stand on various autobiographical elevations to view America’s Rust Belt.
Several writers—including editor Trubek (The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, 2016, etc.), the founder and director of Belt Publishing—discuss the origin of the term Rust Belt, tracing it to Walter Mondale in 1984. However, the concern of these essayists is not so much with the term itself as with the social, economic, and personal elements of the Belt. Trubek has assembled an impressively diverse array of voices, including men, women, gay, straight, black, white, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and others. Some are professional writers, journalists, historians, teachers, and editors; some are public officials; some are people who have grown up in such Rust Belt communities as Cleveland, Akron, Buffalo, Detroit, and Flint. Some voices are bitter, even angry. Black historian and urban planner Henry Louis Taylor Jr. discusses Buffalo’s “hipster, latte-drinking whites” and a “city being re-created for whites.” Other writers are bitter about the disproportionate poverty in cities, poor schools and public services, drug abuse and violence, heartless coal companies, and city governments that allow retailers to abandon buildings. But currents of hope also flow throughout. One writer tells about public gardens and community restoration, and another urges Rust Belt residents to move on—not by forgetting but by crafting new ideas of community and progress. Others try to understand the historical and cultural forces that have created the Belt. The essays vary widely in quality; a glance at the notes on the contributors helps explain why: not everyone here is a “professional” writer. Regardless, it seems almost churlish to complain about the quality of a voice that is telling you something significant, something you really ought to know—and need to understand.
Essays that are uneven in quality but unrelenting in their frank, even painful, descriptions and assessments of one of America’s most devastated lands.