Kevin Smokler received his MA in American Studies in 2000. He is the author of “Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School.” (Feb. 2013). His criticism and essays have appeared in the LA Times, The San Francsico Chronicle, Fast Company, the Believer and NPR. He’s currently at work on a memoir about being a music fan with lousy taste. He has 65,000 twitter followers at @weegee, the subject of his American Studies Masters Thesis.
How is the work that you’re doing right now informed by the work that you did as a student in American Studies at UT?
I’m a nonfiction book author focusing on music, film and literature and its place in our rapidly changing 21st century. Which means a novel, album, band, filmmaker, or movement are always a gumbo pot of ingredients from linguistics, to political science, to economic history and critical theory. Those things pre-mixed, like gumbo, scream American Studies to me.
And selfishly, what gets me out of bed in the morning as an American is not the constitution or baseball or modern dentistry or the folding umbrella or the Internet, all righteous and wonderful things invented right here in this country. No, it’s American culture, in all its beautiful diversity and flavors and contradictions.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for students in our department about how to get the most out of their time here?
It’s a big beautiful country out there and an archive can only take you so far. So learn how to talk to people. Real people, strangers even. Don’t be afraid of the weird, confused look someone might give you when explaining your research interests but don’t be resigned to it either. Learn to talk about your work in plain old English. Whatever it is, it’s too valuable to be passed around amongst your peers or even your discipline or the academy itself. Let it breathe. Let it have a life.