Last year, Michael Ventura retired his column from the weekly newspaper, the Austin Chronicle. I consider Michael Ventura the finest columnist in the English language alive today.
Michael Ventura is a Sicilian-American New Yorker who moved to California and wrote for LA Weekly for years before moving to Lubbock, Texas and writing a bimonthly column for the Austin Chronicle. He has lived and driven across this nation several times over, and he can write from a unique perspective. His range and deep understanding of humanity, the United States, and art allowed him to publish some of the greatest columns about what it means to be American and live in the United States at the dawn of the 21st century.
In one series of columns, “Dispatches from the Former United States“, he took the perspective of the year 2107 reflecting on the successes and failures of the United States of America. In “Red State Blues,” “Broke Down in Bossier City,” and “Lubbockian Identity” he examined the people and places ignored by the American intelligentsia. He also writes about the breakdown in culture and common understanding that leads to the mental unrest grappling this country.
Who else can write a column accurately describing the globalization and diversification of middle of nowhere Lubbock, Texas and reflect, “Lubbock, Texas, 1973 would never have agreed to become Lubbock, Texas, 2008.”
He challenges us to take that step and mentally engage with those different than us. And to see the changes we did not even notice happening under our very own eyes. In his next to last column, he writes about the “World that Calls itself the World” and how our media ignores and disempowers us from the world that is our world. You know, the one we live and see every day in our lives.
The greatest writers can write about topics so distant from their readers’ experiences yet still reach out and touch and move the reader by reaching for their shared humanity. Michael Ventura was able to do that every week in the Austin Chronicle to me.
Austin Chronicle – “Letters at 3AM”
Michael Ventura – “If I was a Highway” – book collection of his columns