Shalini Shankar, "Beeline," with Minna Zallman Proctor
May 23, 2019, 7:00 PM
An anthropologist uses spelling bees as a lens to examine the unique and diverse traits of Generation Z–and why they are destined for success
At first glance, Generation Z (youth born after 1997) seems to be made up of anxious overachievers, hounded by Tiger Moms and constantly tracked on social media. One would think that competitors in the National Spelling Bee — the most popular brain sport in America — would be the worst off. Counterintuitively, anthropologist Shalini Shankar argues that, far from being simply overstressed and overscheduled, Gen Z spelling bee competitors are learning crucial twenty-first-century skills from their high-powered lives, displaying a sophisticated understanding of self-promotion, self-direction, and social mobility. Drawing on original ethnographic research, including interviews with participants, judges, and parents, Shankar examines the outsize impact of immigrant parents and explains why Gen Z kids are on a path to success.
Shalini Shankar is Professor of Anthropology and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University. She is the author of Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal about Generation Z’s New Path to Success (Basic Books 2019), as well as Advertising Diversity: Ad Agencies and the Creation of Asian American Consumers (Duke Press 2015) and Desi Land: Teen Culture, Class and Success in Silicon Valley (Duke Press 2008). She is a cultural and linguistic anthropologist whose ethnographic research focuses on youth, media, language use, race & ethnicity, and Asian diasporas. She is the mother of two Gen Z children.
Minna Zallman Proctor is a writer, critic and translator from Italian. She is the author of Landslide: True Stories (Catapult, 2017) and Do You Hear What I Hear? My Father the Priesthood and Religious Calling (Viking 2005). Her most recent translations are Fleur Jaeggy's acclaimed These Possible Lives and the forthcoming Happiness As Such by Natalia Ginzburg (both, New Directions). Her writing about books and art have appeared in The New York Times Review of Books, The Nation, American Scholar, Aperture, and Bomb, among others. She is a regular contributor to Bookforum and on the Creative Writing faculty at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she is Editor in Chief of The Literary Review.