Over at The Story Is the Cure, a new blog written by an MFA student at Wichita State, Casey Pycior is sure that I am “blaming MFA programs (and those who teach in them)” for what I had called, back in May, “the almost complete disappearance of regionalism from American fiction.” I despair of correcting this misconception when even my publisher assigns me to the side that is against creative writing.
Here a large share of the mistake is mine, because I never bothered to define regionalism the first time around. A geographer gives the standard definition in his discipline: “Regionalism is taken to mean the awareness of togetherness among a people of a relatively large area.” The region must be a subdivision of a larger political or geographical unit: “Scotland, for instance, is only a regionalism if viewed from a Britain-wide perspective. . . .”
This is why regionalism is usually described in literature as a movement, not a scattering of individual cases. It is the “awareness of togetherness” that connects a self-aware group of writers, who experience their common region as a deeper influence upon their thinking and story-telling than what the novelist Mary Austin called “the lesser influences of a shared language and a common political arrangement.” In fact, Austin blamed the whole disappointed wait for “the great American novel” on the “genuine inability of various regions to see greatness in novels that dealt with fine and subtle distinctions in respect to some other region.”
How ironic it is, then, that Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is being hailed as the great American novel (at last!). Interviewing him for Boundary 2 last year, Christopher Connery acknowledged that “[i]t’s hard to say that regionalism has much purchase on the general literary imagination these days,” but went ahead and asked Franzen what regionalism meant to him. His reply measures the extent of regionalism’s disappearance from American fiction. Franzen launches into a long meditation on the Midwest, where innocence is prolonged because of a lack of “immediate contact” with New York and Washington and Hollywood, a “time lag” in learning about what people the same age living on the coasts had already learned about, which “produces both a sense of optimism and a kind of reactive curdled cynicism.” Defining the boundaries of the Midwest, though, Franzen says:
 David B. Knight, “Identity and Territory: Geographical Perspectives on Nationalism and Regionalism,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 72 (1982): 518.
 Mary Austin, “Regionalism in American Fiction,” English Journal 21 (Feb. 1932): 98–99.
 Christopher Connery, “The Liberal Form: An Interview with Jonathan Franzen,” Boundary 2 36 (Summer 2009): 40–42.
 C. S. Lewis, “The Idea of an ‘English School,’ ” in Representations and Other Essays (London: Oxford University Press, 1939), pp. 74-75.