In 2011, a Northwestern journalism professor invited two graduating students to join him for a three-month road trip. They loosely followed the path set by Mark Twain and it took them to 38 states, covering over 14,000 miles. Interviewing other journalists, scholars, immigrants, nomads, and many others, they were looking for what John Steinbeck had called Genus Americanus, or “what was uniquely American about Americans.” They reported their trip via the website TravelingWithTwain.org
Last year this trio of collaborators published a book based on not only that reporting from 2011, but how the trip had informed their perspectives on events in the years that followed. Genus Americanus: Hitting The Road In Search of America’s Identity (University of Georgia Press, 2020) gives readers access to a vast choir of American voices, who ask as many questions as they answer.
In this episode of the American Vandal Podcast, Matt Seybold is joined by the authors to discuss the book, its potential sequel, the role of the journalist in Twain’s time and our own, the formative impact of travel, the rewards of intergenerational collaboration, and much more.
Loren Ghiglione is Professor Emeritus in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, where he was also a Dean. Before becoming a journalism educator, he ran the Southbridge Evening News and its parent company, Worchester County Newspapers. He has served as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, as a Pulitzer Prize juror, and has consulted or curated for the Library Congress, the Newseum, and the Northwestern University Library.
Alyssa Karas is Associate Director of Audience Development at Vanity Fair, where she has also worked as a Senior Digital Producer and Special Projects Editor since joining the magazine in 2015.
Dan Tham is a Producer of Global Features for CNN. He has been working from the network’s Asia/Pacific Headquarters in Hong Kong since 2014.
Earlier this month, the authors of Genus Americanus also provided at digital lecture for our Trouble Begins series.