For Evan J. Peterson, writer and AUS BA program faculty, pop culture is a teacher. “It teaches what a culture wants, it teaches us what a culture is afraid of – and that’s everything from comic books to pornography. All of these things tell us what America really cares about versus what another country or what a subculture might care about,” he says.
Peterson’s fascination with pop culture enables him to find creative ways to get his students and his readers thinking about the complex social issues that underpin contemporary society. This quarter, for example, he’s teaching a course on graphic novels. “Graphic novels are books in a newer medium. It’s a literature class; we’re looking at how personal experience and culture shapes literature, and we’re looking through multiple lenses to examine these stories,” he says. Some of the graphic novels his students are studying are Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, among others. “It can be challenging to narrow down the curriculum to teach this class, but I wanted all of the graphic novels to be game-changing and they all are,” Peterson says.
In his own writing, Peterson seeks to defy the conventional. He describes his fiction as “weird.” “It thrills me to tell someone a story in a way that they’ve never seen on the page before,” he says. In addition to fiction, he writes poetry and nonfiction. In all of these, he seeks to challenge the reader’s understanding of status quo by integrating issues of intersectionality into his work; this is where his passion for social justice is most prominent.
“What I do is perhaps subversive,” he says. “People might not recognize what’s going on. But I care deeply about social justice and I practice it through intersectionality, reminding readers that social justice issues show up for different people in very different ways.”
Recently, Peterson published a memoir, The PrEP Diaries: A Safe(r) Sex Memoir, which explores dating, hooking up, and living with the advent of Truvada PrEP, which is a revolutionary HIV medication that blocks transmission of the virus. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, Peterson says he had a crushing fear o f HIV and AIDS so when he learned about PrEP, he decided to try it. He used his own experiences to inform his writing of PrEP Diaries, as well as the experiences of others and the way they integrate the pill into their lives.
“It’s been amazing to get that book deal stemming from my journalism and have the opportunity to talk about PrEP and how history-making it is on a global scale,” Peterson says.
In his classroom, Peterson emphasizes the importance of diversity to his students through the works they read and discuss. “It’s important to me that diverse voices are represented in the canon.”
Of his experience teaching at Antioch, Peterson has good things to say. “It’s been wonderful teaching at Antioch. I love my students; they are so invested and bright and they’re such wonderful, caring people. It’s a joy to teach them.”
You can read Peterson’s fiction and nonfiction at his website, evanjpeterson.com.