Book of the Week: I Was a Revolutionary – Andrew Malan Milward

This is Milward’s second collection of stories about Kansas. His first, The Agriculture Hall of Fame, won the University of Massachusetts’s Juniper Prize; Stewart O’Nan said of it, “The Kansas of The Agriculture Hall of Fame is brokedown, hardluck country. Andrew Malan Milward’s precarious, paralyzed people are lost in place, and know it, alternately circling and fleeing the center of the center of America. As one says, ‘Out here, everybody’s crazy with looking for something.’”

I’m new to Milward’s work. I finished the manuscript of his new collection, I Was a Revolutionary, six months ago and thought, “Who is this guy?” I found a copy of Agriculture and inhaled it, too. Taken together these two books are a deep meditation on the heart of America—geographically, psychologically and, in this newest collection, historically.

I admire writers who dig in and stay with a place and its people—writers like Ron Rash, Tom Franklin, Frank Bill, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Daniel Woodrell and Donald Ray Pollack. Milward deserves a place on this contemporary story writer’s A-list.

While The Agriculture Hall of Fame looks at lives in modern rural Kanas, this collection takes a breathtakingly interesting leap and looks at Kansas through time. It’s comprised of eight stories that examine a series of incidents in Kansas history. Add them together, think about the title, and you come to understand that Milward has been writing a kind of explanation of America—with Kansas as the bloody crucible that forged our country in all its contradictions.

You can read an early version of the first story in the collection about Quantrill’s Raiders and the Lawrence Massacre in Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope: All-StoryThe Burning of Lawrence.”

I can’t recommend this collection enough.

“The eight stories in Milward’s second collection don’t just use history as a jumping-off point, they also raise questions about the nature of recorded history itself. Each one feels as complete and complex as a novel. Even better, each story is distinct, but benefits from its nearness to the others. The opening story, ‘The Burning of Lawrence,’ examines Quantrill’s Raiders from conventional and meta perspectives, referencing a 1920s song about Quantrill, a 1912 photograph, and the 1999 Ang Lee film Ride with the Devil….The time line moves forward into the 1920s (‘The Americanist’) and the 1950s (‘Hard Feelings’). The centerpiece of the book is ‘A Defense of History,’ which follows the research of a historian called the Assistant, who gathers information about the Populists, a Kansas political party from a century ago, and is confronted with ethical questions when he comes across conflicting original sources….This collection is sharp, shrewd, and consistently thought provoking.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 Spanning a hundred and fifty years in the history of Kansas, the eight vivid and masterfully linked stories in I Was A Revolutionary are a stunning example of the importance of ‘place’ in literature. Without a doubt, Andrew Malan Milward is one of the smartest and most inventive writers working today.”
— Donald Ray Pollock

 I Was a Revolutionary (9780062377319) by Andrew Malan Milward. $24.99 hardcover. 8/18/15 on sale.

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