I’m gearing my Composition I course this semester around the theme of Dystopia. I’m really excited for several reasons: dystopia interests me; I’ve never taught about dystopia and dystopian subjects; and I’ve never geared a composition course around a single theme. I’ve taught various themes for various papers, but I like the idea of building knowledge throughout an entire semester. A brief search on dystopia led me to Kate Brown’s book, which I hoped would be useful for me.
Brown, a professor of history, wrote Dispatches from Dystopia as a hybrid academic text and travel narrative. So it’s not your ordinary academic I-must-get-tenure kind of book. Rather, it takes you to some interesting forgotten places, such as Chernobyl, Billings, Montana, and the Rust Belt area outside the Chicago suburbs, particularly Elgin. While Brown does explicitly elaborate on dystopia itself, she does visit locations that have become rundown or forgotten, finding stories about what it means to be destroyed or to start over.
I really liked this book a lot. It was informative and engaging all at once. Her travels, stories, and pictures painted a picture of places that are neglected, or were broken by external forces and have had stories to tell that we’re just now getting around to finding. Her research on Chernobyl in the aftermath is fascinating. I was definitely pulled into her research, and I hope she writes a follow-up. While most of the book will not be helpful or productive for my composition students, I think that it does add to the idea of how we see dystopia in our lives today. And there will definitely be an essay we can read for class.