Secrets and Strangers is a collection of short stories set in Europe, along the Mediterranean, in Prague, Washington, DC, Chicago, and in Southern Illinois. They are recounted by different narrators and from different perspectives: a young woman, a small boy, a gay man, a married man. Their inspirations come from fictionalized memories, snatches of overheard conversations, and imagined settings of very ordinary moments of emotional confrontation. They are unified in their exploration of ironic situations, where secrets and strangers meet and interact with surprising results. As a long-time practicing historian, I wrote these stories to resolve an intellectual dilemma, to reach beyond the categories of truth-telling that make history both a splendid, but limiting form of literature. I wanted to explore the insides of experience, the multiple meanings of memory, and the reactions of characters beyond the traces they have left in archives. And most of all, I wanted to try out new voices and perspectives, to see, feel, and record ordinary encounters from differing points of view. These stories, then, are true only in the sense that they are convincing--not that they reveal anything that actually happened or adherence to the facts. The joy of fiction-writing is liberation from that sort of truth and the immersion in another. And if they are successful, this will be their message.
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James Gilbert is a student and historian of modern American Culture. The search for understanding twentieth century America led him to write books that explore world's fairs in Chicago and St. Louis, religion and science, juvenile delinquency, radical literary journals, the mind of Progressive intellectuals in the late 19th century, and the history of the 1950's. Unlike some other historians who have mined a single field, he has ranged widely in his interests, a reflection, perhaps, of his reaction to the ever-changing puzzle of American culture and its amazing creative energies. He has spent most of his academic teaching career at the University of Maryland, near Washington, DC, but with many appointments to universities elsewhere including Sydney, Australia, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Uppsala, Sweden, the University of Paris, Warwick University in the United Kingdom, Tubingen and Erfurt Universities in Germany, and the University of Virginia. He grew up in Chicago and attended Carleton College in Minnesota (with a year abroad in France), and the University of Wisconsin. He has lived for substantial periods of in London, England, Paris and Nice, France, and Berlin, Germany. He currently resides near Washington, DC.
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