Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Searching for an American Utopia
Adrian Shirk (Author)
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DescriptionAn exploration of American ideas of utopia through the lens of one millennial's quest to live a more communal life under late-stage capitalism Told in a series of essays that balance memoir with fieldwork, Heaven Is a Place on Earth is an idiosyncratic study of American utopian experiments--from the Shakers to the radical faerie communes of Short Mountain to the Bronx rebuilding movement--through the lens of one woman's quest to create a more communal life in a time of unending economic and social precarity. When Adrian Shirk's father-in-law has a stroke and loses his ability to speak and walk, she and her husband--both adjuncts in their midtwenties--become his primary caretakers. The stress of these new responsibilities, coupled with navigating America's broken health-care system and ordinary twenty-first-century financial insecurity, propels Shirk into an odyssey through the history and present of American utopian experiments in the hope that they might offer a way forward. Along the way, Shirk seeks solace in her own community of friends, artists, and theologians. They try to imagine a different kind of life, examining what might be replicable within the histories of utopia-making, and what might be doomed. Rather than "no place," Shirk reframes utopia as something that, according to the laws of capital and conquest, shouldn't be able to exist--but does anyway, if only for a moment.
March 15, 2022
6.1 X 9.1 X 1.2 inches | 1.35 pounds
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About the Author
ADRIAN SHIRK is an essayist and memoirist. She is the author of And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy, named an NPR Best Book of 2017. Shirk was raised in Portland, Oregon, and has since lived in New York and Wyoming. She is a frequent contributor to Catapult, and her essays have appeared in The Atlantic and Atlas Obscura, among other publications. Currently, she teaches in Pratt Institute's BFA creative writing program and lives at the Mutual Aid Society in the Catskill Mountains.
As she physically travels all over our country and through some of life's roughest emotional terrain--grief, regret, inadequacy, betrayal, unrequited idealism--Adrian Shirk takes the reader on a rich, lyrical journey of what it feels and looks like to persist in hope. Whether those hopes are in the form of a utopian farm cooperative formed in the 1800s or earnest hipsters gathering in upstate New York, even if you don't share their same dreams Shirk's writing leaves you wanting to treat hope, as she puts it, as a vocation. Heaven is a Place on Earth is not so much a study of utopianism as a meditation. Shirk has a skillful way of weaving together the scraps of seemingly unrelated snippets and insights into a gorgeous quilt of meaning. Utopian-ists want what we all want--fulfillment, happiness, community, but they don't give up when life refuses to deliver. This book is a raw examination of that combination of obsession and grit--and it's masterful. --Kate Kelly, human rights lawyer and author of Ordinary Equality What kind of world will we create in the wake of a global pandemic and armed insurrection, in the midst of climate chaos, systemic racism, and inequity? In Heaven is a Place on Earth, the brilliant Adrian Shirk is looking for an existence that is more than just mere existence, more than 'waged labor, ' a life that is less extractive, capitalistic, and crushing. A life that is instead, meaningful, creative, and beautiful. In these pages, I found myself believing such a thing might be possible, and you will too--a testament to Adrian's tremendous power as a writer, intellectual, and human. This is an important book for the moment we find ourselves in. --Cameron Dezen Hammon, author of This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession