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James A. Reeves

James A. Reeves is a writer, educator, and designer. He has taught courses in design, research, history, and visual culture at Pratt Institute and Parsons School of Design. He lives in New Orleans.


"Unpretentious and insightful, James Reeves' . . . unique point of view clearly comes through in both his writing and images -- quirky, beautiful, disturbing, humorous, and at times unexpectedly and achingly moving."

– Photo Life

"The inspiration is so simple: Head out at random into America and see what you find. James A. Reeves found the America no one seems to be looking for anymore, and he also found himself."

– Roger Ebert

"On The Road for a new century."

– Michael Lesy, Wisconsin Death Trip

"A tantalizing 21st Century cross between James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Jack Kerouac's On the Road, this remarkable and utterly original memoir heralds the arrival of a new and important American voice."

– Andre Dubus III, House of Sand and Fog



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The Road to Somewhere

On and Off . . . The Road to Somewhere


I’ve been driving legally since I was 15. Back in those Iron Age days, a mere learner’s permit was all that was required to haul my indolent arse to a minimum wage ($3.10/hr.) gig at the local multiplex. Since then, I figure I’ve easily slapped on over half a million miles on the myriad vehicles I’ve owned, leased, or rented. Unlike the romantic, quintessential literary version of the “American writer” finding himself on this country’s back roads and small, rural routes, my traveling experience has come wrestling with the brutality of our ill-paved, Eisenhower-era highways.

In the 21st Century, trekking across America’s deteriorating thoroughfares is harsh business; not only on the machine itself (hello $175 front wheel alignment + labor!), but on the psyche as well. I crossed this vast country twice in my 20s; both winter trips made solo in a standard VW with no heat, power windows or steering, armed with only a mix tape of Steel Pulse tunes to keep me anchored in reality, sanity, and emotional warmth. Continuing my numerous East/West, North/South adventures since, I’ve withstood a relentless barrage of psychological warfare and propaganda dished out via billboards and AM Talk Radio. Propaganda which either tried to bully me into consuming chemically tweaked burgers, fries, and other mechanically separated chicken parts, or decreed my certain damnation unless I embraced the power of Jesus and cleansed my soul like some glazed-look Aye-aye in urgent need of salvation.

You can imagine my vindicated sense of brotherhood when I read James Reeves’s generous offering of his own, similar experiences in The Road to Somewhere. Aha, I screamed: finally a fellow writer who shuns romanticizing America’s highways in favor of the truth.

“What does it mean to be a man in the 21st Century?” is one of the questions Reeves asks in this personal and emotional memoir, and love/hate affair with The Road. And does one really find anything within oneself on the savage highways of America, like Kerouac and Cassady did back in the ’50s?

Examining Reeves’s account and literally witnessing his vision of our country through wonderful, personal photographs (Reeves is an educator, a photographer, and a designer as well) as it enters the new millennium in a chaotic, almost dismembered condition, only further obfuscates the (declining) force that is a complicated America. And that is a good thing. It’s one of the truths evident. Through his search for his own answers, contemplating family history and expected societal roles, James reveals the partitioned state that is our country, at times unveiling its Philistine, fundamentalist tendencies for maintaining status quo, at others underscoring its inventive, modern, innovative, and optimistic drive into a new era. At the core of these dueling forces we find . . . people.

Reeves personalizes The Road with profile slices of those who inhabit it, who hitchhike it, who love or loathe it, who defend it. In reading this book I found my America quickly slipping away from me; I found I know no more of it now than I did thirty-two years ago when I came to it as a refugee from a totalitarian regime. And as strange as it may sound, that should stand as a credit to this country — rapidly moving either forward or tragically backward.

Within his expansive, several-thousand-mile journey, James reveals the profile of a young, travelling man fighting to understand ideas passed down through his culture and familial rituals, and how they intersperse with the mentation of his own experiences, in his own time, as a man in America. I love this book because of its balanced helping of melancholy and brutal truth of what The Road means and how it has defined this country—both in the past and present. I love this book because it presents The Road as it is: a laborious, 15-round bout with Ali or Frazier; a ferocious ballet.

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  1. Emily Lackey said on 02/07/12 at 1:38 pm Reply

    Great recommendation, Alex. I’ve had friends who have done the cross country road trip, and I’ve been tempted myself a few times. “I should drive across country!” is my usual refrain. “Imagine what I’ll see! Imagine what I’ll discover about myself.”

    Trust me, the last thing I need is two weeks with myself and a stiff neck.

    I’m definitely going to check this book out. Thanks!


    Alex M. Pruteanu said on 02/07/12 at 5:59 pm

    Thanks so much. I travelled cross-country alone during a tumultuous time in my early 20s…and the Road, as well as the Land seemed like a nefarious enemy…but at the same time, a gentle giant. I got caught up in the biggest storm I’ve ever experienced in my life (and I went through hurricane Andrew, Frances, Charlie, and Ivan in FL! and a tornado here in Raleigh just last spring) in between Tucumcari, New Mexico and Winslow, AZ. I thought I would get blown off the mountain. This country…is brutal and gentle and modern and backwards all at the same time.

  2. Alex M. Pruteanu said on 02/07/12 at 6:01 pm Reply

    It’s just a very pretty book as well, James is a fantastic photographer/artist. The photos are his own. The book is BIG…400+ pages. And as you can see, Ebert and Dubus vouch for it.


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