Heaven is a Place on Earth: Searching for an American Utopia (Paperback)

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Heaven is a Place on Earth: Searching for an American Utopia By Adrian Shirk Cover Image
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Staff Reviews

In order to imagine a new world, you have to be kind of primed for it. You have to be dreaming of it already, so that you can recognize what you’re looking at when it comes. That’s where the groupie and the utopian distinction perhaps falls apart. One must, it seems, be a groupie first. One must be a lover of hope, a dreamer, a fool. 


History, politics, and sociology are cozy coresidents in Adrian Shirk’s memoir, a broad collection of essays compiled from the author’s research into American utopian experiments. As she travels from the Bronx to the Catskills, and all over the US, she visits Shakers and radical faeries, considers the classic musical Hair, as well as Diane Keaton’s directorial vision for Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is A Place On Earth, and so much more. Through communes, prisons, schools, and artist colonies, Shirk attempts to balance her life as a writer with the needs of her own family, and wonders how to build meaningful community as late-stage capitalism forces individuals into ever more isolated modes of existence. While the book asks more questions than it answers, Heaven Is a Place on Earth will inspire anyone seeking the same. Matty recommends! 

— Matty


An exploration of American ideas of utopia through the lens of one millennial's quest to live a more communal life under late-stage capitalism

Told in a series of essays that balance memoir with fieldwork, Heaven Is a Place on Earth is an idiosyncratic study of American utopian experiments—from the Shakers to the radical faerie communes of Short Mountain to the Bronx rebuilding movement—through the lens of one woman’s quest to create a more communal life in a time of unending economic and social precarity.

When Adrian Shirk’s father-in-law has a stroke and loses his ability to speak and walk, she and her husband—both adjuncts in their midtwenties—become his primary caretakers. The stress of these new responsibilities, coupled with navigating America’s broken health-care system and ordinary twenty-first-century financial insecurity, propels Shirk into an odyssey through the history and present of American utopian experiments in the hope that they might offer a way forward.

Along the way, Shirk seeks solace in her own community of friends, artists, and theologians. They try to imagine a different kind of life, examining what might be replicable within the histories of utopia-making, and what might be doomed. Rather than “no place,” Shirk reframes utopia as something that, according to the laws of capital and conquest, shouldn’t be able to exist—but does anyway, if only for a moment.

About the Author

ADRIAN SHIRK is an essayist and memoirist. She is the author of And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy, named an NPR Best Book of 2017. Shirk was raised in Portland, Oregon, and has since lived in New York and Wyoming. She is a frequent contributor to Catapult, and her essays have appeared in The Atlantic and Atlas Obscura, among other publications. Currently, she teaches in Pratt Institute’s BFA creative writing program and lives at the Mutual Aid Society in the Catskill Mountains.

Product Details
ISBN: 9781640093577
ISBN-10: 1640093575
Publisher: Counterpoint
Publication Date: December 5th, 2023
Pages: 352
Language: English