Sunday, January 16, 2011

John McMillian's "Smoking Typewriters"

John McMillian is an assistant professor of history at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he specializes in studying 20th century social movements and the Vietnam War Era. He has a Ph.D. in American history from Columbia University, and his dissertation was honored by the American Journalism Historians Association. From 2001-2009, he taught at Harvard University, in the Committee on Degrees in History and Literature, and in the Undergraduate Writing Program. He is a founding editor of The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America, and reported the following:
No, I wouldn't quite say that the quality of Smoking Typewriters is revealed by page 99 (or any other page) of the book. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, I worked on the manuscript over a long period of time, and in different iterations. Some of the chapters in the book were originally drafted for my Ph.D. dissertation at Columbia. One chapter evolved out of a stand-alone essay that I originally wrote for a literary magazine called The Believer, and a couple more were written after I knew this would be published as a trade book by Oxford. Once I’d finished a draft of the entire manuscript, I went over it again, and tried to make sure that I maintained a consistent tone throughout, so I don't think the average reader would have an easy time figuring out which chapters were originally intended for which purpose. But I suppose I’m still a little sensitive to this.

Another thing is, much of the book is done in a narrative style, but a few sections are analytical. On page 99, I'm fully in analytical mode; I'm exploring the possibility that members of a radical news agency called Liberation News Service (LNS) might have, on a very few occasions, consciously tried to advance the New Left's aspirations by putting across "strategic myths" -- stories that they knew were not fully accurate, but that retain a kind of “impressionistic honesty.” Again, I don't think this happened often. Most of the time, underground journalists put across the "facts" as they knew them, and then interpreted those facts from a radical perspective. But in a few instances, I think their sense of theater, and their sense of self-righteousness, may have caused them to behave like fabulists.
Visit John McMillian's website, and learn more about the book at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue