Virginia Postrel is a political and cultural writer who is a contributing editor for The Atlantic, editor-in-chief of DeepGlamour.net, and the author of The Substance of Style and The Future and Its Enemies. She is currently writing a book on glamour for The Free Press. She previously wrote an economics column in The New York Times for six years, served as editor of Reason and has worked as a reporter for Inc. Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Individual Rights and is a popular blogger and speaker. She was educated at Princeton University and lives in Los Angeles.
Virginia Postrel. I’m a contributing editor for the Atlantic Monthly. Well originally, I’m from North Carolina; but actually I grew up in South Carolina. I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina and spent my childhood and teenage years there. I carry a few sort of interesting, and in some ways unexpected things from my childhood. One is that I grew up in Greenville in the deep South in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And my parents, while they were not activists, they were supportive of the Civil Rights Movement at a time when that was an unusual position to take. And one thing that I learned from them I’ve realized in my adult life was how to be both a dissident, different, and also very mainstream at the same time, because they were very imbedded in their local community. They were not alienated from it. They were not weird in any way, but they had these very different views. And that’s something . . . In that particular case it was the Civil Rights Movement, and obviously growing up in the era, in that place, issues of race are issues that can . . . they don’t . . . they’re not at the center of my work, but they inform my background and who I am somewhat. But the real thing that I learned from them was about being different, but also mainstream as opposed to having to see yourself as sort of an alternative, or being alienated from the general culture. At the same time, growing up there and having the personality that I have, and being female, and being very sort of assertive and intellectual, I was very alienated from the local culture. And so I was very happy to leave, I have to say, with all due respect to the fine people in Greenville. And so that’s another thing. Another aspect is that it is the buckle of the Bible belt. My family is liberal but devout Christians. I come from . . . My grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. I come from a very churchgoing background. I am not myself especially religious, and I also converted to Judaism in my early adult life. So I’m very different from that, but the fact that I grew up in that culture, that I really know the Bible, but I really know what it’s like to be a religious person who is an actual believer where it informs every aspect of their life, and to live in a culture where that’s normal is another thing that I carry with me into my life in this sort of public realm. And then finally, and the one that most directly informs my work, is that I lived in a poor place at a time that it was experiencing economic growth. And you know, the U.S. South, if you go back to right after World War II, was basically sort of like a rich third world country. I mean it would be, you know . . . and it had . . . The fact that it’s not poor today is really quite a miracle of economic development. And people who are from the South I think appreciate the benefits of just material prosperity more than sometimes people in other parts of the country. And they also see the economic progress that is taking place in this country over the past 20, 30 years that sometimes the rest of the country doesn’t recognize. And particularly sort of the intellectual class concentrated in New York, L.A., very expensive cities doesn’t recognize how much economic progress there’s been.
Recorded on: 7/4/07