Trysh Travis


On her book The Language of the Heart: A Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey

Cover Interview of January 26, 2010

In a nutshell

My book is about that loosely defined cultural phenomenon known as “the recovery movement”—an agglomeration of self-help groups and practices that have grown out of Alcoholics Anonymous since its founding in 1935.  Although most people know someone who is or has been “in recovery,” most people are also a little vague about what that means.  That vagueness has allowed critics—both conservative and progressive—to caricature the recovery movement as narcissistic, banal, and apolitical.  The Language of the Heart is intended to show that recovery is a diverse and evolving phenomenon whose complex history reflects the shifting ideas about gender and power that characterize contemporary America.

I’ve used recovery’s print culture to narrate the story of its evolution from AA—which began as an alcohol-focused, evangelical Christian, and resolutely masculine sub-culture—to Oprah Winfrey, a self-proclaimed “food addict” and survivor of childhood sexual abuse who espouses a healing metaphysical spirituality to millions of women around the globe. Most recovery publications come from the margins of polite print culture.  Rather than the products of professionally credentialed authors writing in the pages of esteemed journals, many of recovery’s central ideas appeared first in obscure pamphlets, self-published tracts, and the textbooks of the addiction treatment industry.  None of these are usually considered “serious” literature.  But both the writing and the reading of such materials is an extremely serious matter for many recovering people.