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‘State by State’ through America

Many Americans identify themselves by their home state. Matt Weiland made this interesting point early on in the preface to “State by State” ” a book he helped compile, edit and write with his friend Sean Wilsey.

Plop down on a stool in any bar in the valley and you’ll soon find yourself ensconced in conversation with somebody who’s not from around here. Often times they’re more than happy to launch into a diatribe about whichever of the 50 states they hail from, be it Arkansas, Texas, Rhode Island or Michigan.

The fact that so many people wear their native state as a badge of honor ” even if they now live thousands of miles away ” gave Weiland and Wilsey the idea for what would eventually become an anthology of essays, “State By State: A Panoramic Portrait Of America.”



“We kind of made up a dream list (of authors) and went after the list and pretty much everybody we wanted agreed to do it,” Wilsey said.

Besides Wilsey’s introduction to the book, notable authors like Joshua Ferris (Florida), William T. Vollmann (California) and Jack Hitt (South Carolina) penned essays on their outlook on American society through the lens of their home state roots. All 50 states are covered in the book.



Powell’s Books ” an independent Oregon book chain ” took the book one step further by making a movie out of it. The Out of the Book film series was created by Dave Weich, director of marketing and development for Powell’s. Weich thought the industry wasn’t doing enough as a whole to promote new releases in a multimedia fashion. “State By State” will be shown at the Bookworm of Edwards on Tuesday night.

“Basically what they’re doing is making short films about new titles,” said Nicole Magistro, owner of the Bookworm of Edwards. “In some ways it’s like a trailer for the book except it’s much longer than 30 seconds or three minutes.”

The “State By State” film will run a little over 45 minutes, Magistro said.



Weich was able to gather 19 of the 50 writers along with their family and friends to participate in the filming of “State by State.” They gathered at the American Legion Club in New York, got drunk at an open bar and spoke on film about their essays.

The idea was to have several different settings where the action would take place throughout the day, Weich said. There was a small stage set up where the authors could give short readings, an interview room and the open floor of the club where the authors were shot just being themselves.

The film has a jazz soundtrack and is highly edited (they filmed non-stop for eight hours, Weich said) but the end result captured the authors as human beings having fun instead of just boring lecturers.

“People say ‘I feel like I was in a bar with everybody. I kind of wanted to clap when someone stopped reading.’ And that’s kind of what we were going for,” Weich said.

With so many books that cover all aspects, angles and agendas of American life, what separates “State By State” from the rest of the patriotic prose out there?

“This book is not full of s— and a lot of books are. … These are real pieces by some of the best writers living in America and they’re all telling you about places that I think most Americans have no clue about,” Wilsey said. “So if you’re really interested in looking beyond the shallow red-state, blue-state divide that is all we hear about in this country all the time, this is a really good place to go.”

Author Benjamin Kunkel grew up in Eagle and though he doesn’t appear in the film, his essay reveals a time when the town of Eagle was not all big-box stores and stacked housing. Kunkel romanticizes his home state while at the same time revealing its possible future as a population-choked land ruined by pollution. Even so, he writes lovingly of Colorado, and mines for truth in spots where his memories and modernity collide.

“The editors of the book asked me to write the piece, I think because someone had told them I wrote well about Colorado,” Kunkel said. “And whether or not that’s true, I do think that, as a theme, Colorado calls up some of my deepest feelings. It was the first place I knew, and still the most beautiful place I’ve been.”

And at a time when red and blue seem to blind all other colors of the American spectrum, Weich said the need for a book and film that doesn’t focus on preconceived notions of American culture but instead on humanity, has never been more important.

“They’re really good pieces and I think it’s timely and topical and it’s relevant no matter where you are in the U.S. ” you might even say it’s relevant internationally to get a little bit of a different perspective on America. … It seemed like exactly the kind of project that would convert well to film,” Weich said.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 970-748-2939 or cowen@vaildaily.com.


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