College News

UA Professor Featured in PBS Series “The Great American Read”

From the July 2018 Desktop News | Many titles are often cited as the quintessential American novel, including The Catcher in the Rye, Little Women, and Game of Thrones. But what is America’s favorite novel? A new PBS series, “The Great American Read,” takes viewers on a journey through America’s most prized books to discover which is the absolute winner.

Dr. Andy Crank
Dr. Andy Crank

The eight-part series, which premiered on May 22, follows celebrities, writers, and everyday Americans as they discuss their favorite novels and explain why viewers should vote for it to win. Speakers share their personal connections to 100 different books, ranging from centuries-old classics, such as The Pilgrim’s Progress, to modern-day best sellers, such as the Harry Potter series.

One of the featured storytellers is Dr. Andy Crank, an assistant professor in UA’s English department. Crank has written and spoken extensively about Gone with the Wind throughout his career. The producers of the show approached him to ask for his take on the novel, as well as To Kill a Mockingbird, and was then selected to appear in the series premiere.

“We filmed for eight hours at a plantation in north Georgia,” Crank said. “That got cut down to approximately two minutes during the segment on Mitchell and Gone with the Wind.”

Margaret Mitchell’s novel holds a special place in Crank’s heart. Gone with the Wind was his mother’s favorite book, and as a young child, he became just as obsessed with it as she was, reading the story of a young southern belle play out onto the page.

The book, however, does not come without controversy. Over the years, many fans (including Crank) have pointed out its racists undertones that, in the episode, Crank describes as “a viewpoint of the forced enslavement of Africans and painting that with a romantic lens.” Still, Crank sees importance in Mitchell’s work, such as creating one of the only female protagonists of her time.

“I felt that, if we could be honest about [the novel’s racism], there were important things to say about Mitchell and what she was doing with that novel that were ahead of her time,” Crank said.

In addition to Gone with the Wind, Crank also discussed To Kill a Mockingbird, another favorite of his since childhood. Like Gone with the Wind, the novel has its flaws, but Crank explained that there are still important lessons to be learned from Harper Lee’s classic.

“It is this novel that, in so many ways, speaks to the very essence of who we are,” Crank said. “And it reminds us that the innocence we once celebrated can be found again—and that innocence can do remarkable things if we harness it the right way.”

Crank’s segment on Gone with the Wind aired in the premiere of the series, currently available at pbs.org. The rest of the series, including the discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird, will air later this fall.

To read about all 100 novels selected and to vote for your favorite, visit the show’s website.