Mapping USA via novels, not left and right politics

By Giuliana Mayo⁣

Author Susan Straight stands in front of the neighborhood library outside her Riverside home. Photo by Giuliana Mayo.

Author Susan Straight lives in and writes about a world the New York Times recently called a “hidden LA.” To her, and much of the rest of this coast far from the NYC literature  world, it’s just home. The “hidden” possibility of home partly spurred her latest project, 1,001 Novels: A Library of America.

“The impetus for the map was Inauguration Day 2016,” says Straight. “That was the first time I realized that no matter what channel the TV was on, there were all these maps of the United States and it was literally red or blue. … And I thought this is really weird, because when I looked at my map of the United States, it was an Auto Club version of the United States [that she used to travel across the country], and it certainly doesn't look red or blue. Instead, I saw the world through fiction.”

Partnering with ArcGIS Story Maps, Straight began putting together novels that spoke to a broader America. “The first iteration I worked on with Story Maps, I was stopping at 909 … our former area code here in Riverside. … [And] 1,001 seems like a beautiful reference to telling stories in order to keep ourselves alive,” she explains, nodding to Scheherezade’s 1,001 nights of storytelling.

The interactive map allows people to zoom in on locations where novels are set all over the country. “[Story Maps] made it so easy to navigate the map. You click on one of the dots, and you see the exact GPS location [where the book takes place], and then the book cover comes up,” she explains. She also wrote two-sentence thumbnail descriptions for all 1,001 books.

Some of her highlights from Los Angeles:

Janet Fitch - “Paint it Black”
Nancy Jooyun Kim - “The Last Story of Mina Lee”
Alex Espinoza - “Still Water Saints”
Michael Jaime-Becerra - “Every Night Is Ladies’ Night”
Steve Erickson - “Our Ecstatic Days”
Gary Phillips - “The Jook”
Jervey Tervalon - “Understand This”
Hector Tobar - “The Tattooed Soldier”