Tag Archives: 50 States of Mind: A Journey to Rediscover American Democracy

Interview with Author Ryan Bernsten 

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

I’ve been writing stories from a young age – it started by writing little plays to perform with my friends and family. For me, writing is a conduit to commune with other people, and that’s why my interest has been primarily in playwriting – it keeps the lonely writer trope at bay and keeps art from becoming a solo sport. Writing to me is so much about collaborating, and that’s why this book – which has given me the opportunity to travel across the country to talk to voters and speak at colleges and bookstores – is such an exciting endeavor. 50 States of Mind the book is only the start of the conversation.


2) What inspired you to write your book?

My impetus to write the book was a combination of a lot of different seemingly serendipitous factors: like many in the United States, the 2016 election was a wakeup call. I had been working for the Florida Democratic party, and was totally stunned by the result and hungry to dive into the nuances and contradictions of the hugely consequential election. I needed to discover what I missed – I was a Northwestern-educated 26-year-old who had chosen New York City as his home, but also a Rust Belt native who grew up in a sometimes overlooked part of the Midwest. Because of this, I could empathize with not feeling heard by the rest of the country. These preoccupations led me to write an admissions essay to University of Oxford. When I left the U.S. for the U.K. in September of 2017, I had room to reflect on the events of the past year and, fortuitously, the opportunity to pitch a thesis project to my department. The 50 States of Mind idea – the opportunity to travel to all 50 states to speak to people on the ground, seemed to be the best way to dive into the heart of a divided America and see if there were answers to be found from the people.

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I think the message of the book, hopefully, makes the reader want to turn off the news, put down their phones, and get out there to fully engage in the ever-changing story of American democracy. We are made to feel that we have to think in black and white terms (or red and blue) about the problems in our country, but there is an awful lot of nuance and gray area surrounding these topics. I think those in power intentionally divide about so many inconsequential things – forcing us to take sides in cultural discussions that have little to do with our democracy – that we lose focus on the issues that matter most and get distracted from finding meaningful ways to make change. Our communities are the perfect canvas for us to get involved and make an impact, and it’s worth considering if we’re actually doing our part to make positive change.

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4) What drew you into this particular genre?

The works of travel nonfiction by folks like Bill Bryson who allows humor to illustrate broader points about society, Samantha Allen who fuses candid memoir with travel writing, and William Least-Heat Moon with the search for meaning among the regular folks in America all helped me reconsider what travel writing should or could be. Seeing what is possible in narrative nonfiction and borrowing what I admired helped me create a work of travel nonfiction that I see myself in.

5) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

I really have come to loathe social media because I think it’s tearing apart our democracy (for more details, see the full book or audiobook!), however, I do like to keep people in the loop on Instagram.

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6) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

I’ve learned through the development of this book that you are only as strong as those who edit your work, and luckily I had brilliant editors along the way. The most important relationships a writer can cultivate is with someone who will give you honest feedback on relatively polished work. This could be a non-writer, but never, ever make that person feel taken for granted – buy them dinner, buy them a million drinks! These people are worth their weight in gold. And if you are a part of a writers’ group, be the person who reliably gives notes in a week or two. You’ll learn about your own writing by giving feedback to others, and you’re more likely to get careful feedback in return.

7) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

I’m embarking on a speaking tour of U.S. libraries and bookstores next month, which couldn’t be more exciting since it’s quite parallel to the journey of the book. I’m also starting to develop 50 States of Mind into a stage play in the style of The Laramie Project as I hope to use my playwriting background to bring the diverse voices of those I met along my journey to life. 


About the Author

Ryan Bernsten is a graduate of Northwestern University and Oxford’s Creative Writing Master’s program.  Ryan is a contributor for The Infatuation and has been published in USA TodayThe FulcrumThe Oxford Political Review, and The Trevor Project, where he is the Senior Managing Editor. Ryan is an award-winning playwright whose plays have been performed across the US and UK. You may have seen him as a Slytherin contestant on Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses. ryanbernsten.com


50 States of Mind: A Journey To Rediscover American Democracy by Ryan Bernsten Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

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Author Ryan Bernsten gives hope back to readers who have seen nothing but divide among Americans in recent years by shedding light on what brings people together in the travel nonfiction book “50 States of Mind: A Journey to Rediscover American Democracy”.


The Synopsis

Is America as divided as it seems? Oxford University graduate student Ryan Bernsten takes a 23,000-mile journey through all 50 states of his home country to answer that question.

50 States of Mind: A Journey to Rediscover American Democracy is a work of travel nonfiction in the style of Alexis de Tocqueville that takes readers on a long and winding journey through all 50 states to explore the complexities of today’s America. Leading with the desire to listen and overcome preconceived notions, Bernsten ultimately offers a hopeful vision for the future of America as he embarks on a search for meaning and reflects on what it means to be American. The companion podcast “50 States of Mind,” featured in Condé Nast Traveler, showcases live interviews from the journey and is available on all podcast platforms.

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The Review

This was a compelling and thoughtful read. The author does an amazing job of tapping into the heart of the American tapestry, showcasing that despite a vastly different look at the same subject, people from all over share far more in common than we believe. The discoveries the author makes, from the use of specific terminology being the dividing line that keeps rural farmers and progressive city dwellers from being on the same page concerning everything from climate change to how different national politics can be from local, community-driven politics and policies, really kept the reader invested in the author’s journey.

To me, the heart of this book rests in both the author’s hopeful tone throughout his writing and the balance of personal experiences with enriching interviews with a variety of people. The divide that exists in our world today happens so often because the negative, harsh voices are often the loudest, and yet through this book the author shows the hopeful tone that rests underneath the current of negativity, and the relatable journey he takes both himself and through his discussions with people of all walks of life made this such a compelling book to behold. 

The Verdict

Heartfelt, memorable, and engaging, author Ryan Bernsten’s “50 States of Mind: A Journey to Rediscover American Democracy” is a must-read nonfiction read that blends the discovery of travel with the introspective nature of getting to know others and their varied perspectives. The heart and passion in the author’s writing and the thoughtful approach to this subject will keep readers enthralled as the story unfolds. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10


About the Author

Ryan Bernsten is a graduate of Northwestern University and Oxford’s Creative Writing Master’s program. He has written for The Oxford Political Review, USA Today, The Infatuation, and The Trevor Project, where he is the Senior Managing Editor. Ryan is an award-winning playwright whose plays have been performed across the US and UK. ryanbernsten.com