It would be misleading to say I couldn’t have written United States of Americana: Backyard Chickens, Burlesque Beauties & Handmade Bitters – A Field Guide to the New American Roots Movement anyplace else but the Pacific Northwest. After all, one of the main reasons I chose this so-called career was my belief that I can practice my craft anyplace. But it would’ve been a hell of a lot harder to conceptualize this book, let alone conduct the research and get it into the hands of people I believe will appreciate it, if I called anyplace else home.
Let’s back up for a moment: From 1989 to 1996, I lived—in the fullest Auntie Mame/Agnes Gooch sense—in New York City. Occasionally, longtime friends in the Big Apple still ask, “Why did you move to Seattle?” I explain to them that my “new” home offers me the best of both worlds: the cosmopolitan flair of a big city coupled with the intimacy of the Virginia and Indiana hamlets where I’d resided as a youth. That small-town willingness to help your friends and neighbors, augmented with the access to the-best-of-the-best a major metropolis offers, created a sort of perfect storm in which to write United States of Americana.
Part of my good fortune stemmed from the region’s character, that unique blend of a slower pace of life combined with a tendency towards early adoption. On a more practical level, representatives from our corner of the country turned out to be key players in every subject I addressed. Heritage clothing companies Filson, Pendelton, West Coast Shoe Company, Centralia Knitting Mills and White’s Boots are all located here. The burlesque and circus subcultures have boomed in Seattle, Portland and the surrounding areas. Canning Across America started here. Heck, there are only three or four notable manufacturers of small batch, handmade bitters operating at a national level, and one of them turned out to be my neighbor!
What this meant was that I could do research first-hand, then reach out to heavy hitters in other parts of the country and, armed with trusted recommendations, ask for their assistance, too. Had I not already proven my mettle to the folks who make the plaid shirts and hunting jackets that inspire them, I doubt some of the New York fashionistas featured in the “Rugged Exterior” chapter would’ve made time to talk with me. As a consequence, the community of people involved in my book spread from coast to coast, which only reinforced my convictions that while the Pacific Northwest was a hotbed for the topics I addressed, a larger study of the “New American Roots Movement” would definitely resonate nationwide.
Now that I’m promoting my book, I’m more grateful than ever that it evolved in the Pacific Northwest. Local media outlets such as The Stranger and No Depression gave me an early forum to explore ideas that evolved into key components of the text. And I have so many new friends, from cobblers to contortionists, that I can enlist to help spread the word. Because, if there’s one thing I learned while writing United States of Americana, it’s that as long as the maker consistently nurtures his or her ties within a community, a quality product that celebrates traditional values while also embracing new ideas and technology can easily reach a national audience without compromising its regional identity. Even the entrenched New Yorkers in my life can grasp that.