The Tea Party and the Future of Cuba

by Jack Rooney

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend John Jeremiah Sullivan’s lecture on Tuesday night. I was, granted, exercising my journalistic muscles in the basement of South Dining working the Production 1 desk for Observer News. Still, I cannot help but feel I would have learned more if I had spent part of my night in the Hesburgh Center Auditorium.

The night was not a total waste, though. We (the rest of the production staff and I) put together a sixteen page paper, including an article on Sullivan’s talk, and in between fitting in all the news content on the first five pages, I was able to read two of Sullivan’s pieces. The first of which, American Grotesque, features a personal account of Sullivan’s experience with the Tea Party movement in its various forms, and first appeared in GQ Magazine in January 2010. The second Piece, entitled Where Is Cuba Going?, includes Sullivan’s thoughts on our island neighbors to the south, which is also his wife’s ancestral home. 

Never having read much literary journalism (or at least good literary journalism), I slouched in my spinny chair in the Observer office simply in awe of Sullivan’s pure talent as a writer and storyteller. Reading good writing certainly helps make me a better writer, but to some extent it also shames me and my seemingly woeful lack of lack of literary laurels at this point in my life (I mean, come on, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was 18, but she came from better stock than I).

When I pushed through my mixture of awe and shame over Sullivan’s brilliance, I began to think more critically about the content of Sullivan’s work and its implications on the issues we have been talking about in class. For the most part we have been talking about the impact of strictly news writing and to some extent “infotainment,” but we have not touched much on the cultural perceptions of literary journalism and its unique relationship to American Democracy. Sullivan adopts a subtly authoritative first-person voice in both of these pieces and infuses his own opinion on the Tea Party and Cuba into his beautifully woven stories.

I know Professor Roiland wants us to be specific, so I am struggling to look for a  quote that accurately encapsulates the sarcastic tone of American Grotesque or the tragically personal musing on Cuba, but I feel as if only reading the whole work does them justice. I encourage you to read them, not only because I know you will enjoy the writing, but also because they bring a fascinating form of art into our already robust discussion on the political impact of journalism. This writing isn’t the news. It’s a story, it’s a story well worth the read.