Writing, Literature and Publishing Associate Professor Benoit Denizet-Lewis was awarded a 2022 New America National Fellowship for his latest project, a book that looks at how and why people change their identities and beliefs.
Tentatively titled We Don’t Know You Anymore, the book will also explore our society’s beliefs about, and reaction to, those who have undergone a radical transformation, as well as ideas around who has the right to redemption.
“[The project is] the biggest and most complicated and most interesting one for me in my career so I’m excited to work on it for the next year,” Denizet-Lewis said in a podcast interview with New America Fellows Program Director Awista Ayub.
In the interview, Denizet-Lewis said our identities are forged through our connections with family and community, and our ideas about who can and should change those identities and beliefs can be highly politicized and intellectually inconsistent.
“One of the reasons we aren’t very intellectually consistent in our beliefs about change is we have very mixed feelings about change,” Denizet-Lewis said. “We live in a country that believes identity is both immutable and changeable, and a country that’s both obsessed with change and reinvention, and also very skeptical of it and suspicious of those who claim to have achieved it, especially if we believe the supposed change of one human being or group of human beings somehow invalidates our identity or goes against our political beliefs.”
“Many of our deeply held cultural beliefs about change are simplistic or incorrect,” he said later in the conversation, “and that has policy implications for everything from who we decide to support in their transformation attempts to who we decide to let out of prison.”
The book will weave together stories of contemporary people undergoing identity changes with historical research and cultural analysis of our present moment, addressing issues of intersectionality, political polarization, social media, racial reckoning, and gender, he told Ayub.
We Don’t Know You Anymore will be published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins.
Denizet-Lewis is a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, where he writes about sexual identity and LGBTQ life, mental health, politics, and culture. His previous books include Travels with Casey: My Journey Through Our Dog-Crazy Country (Simon & Schuster, 2015) and America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life (Simon & Schuster, 2010)
The New America Fellows Program this year selected 15 intellectuals and artists out of nearly 400 applicants whose projects “have an impact and spark new conversations about the most pressing issues of our day.”