SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Josh Axelrod, a Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School grad and a former TAPintoSPF intern, presented his graduation thesis at Tulane: Greetings from New Jersey: Mapping Literary Jersey. In his work, Axelrod celebrated the distinct regional literary tradition in the Garden State.
"Some might hear the phrase 'literature of New Jersey,' and feel skeptical – members of my thesis committee certainly were at the beginning of this project," Axelrod said. "The reason is that New Jersey enjoys a reputation of ill repute and neglect in pop culture and conventional American thinking... The truth is that New Jersey is home to a historic legacy of rich literature stretching back to the pre-Revolutinary period."
The thesis focused on three authors: Philip Roth, Bruce Springsteen, and Junot Diaz.
The Fanwood native analyzed Roth "because he encapsulates the changing face of New Jersey’s cities throughout the 20th century. Writing mainly about his hometown of Newark and its once bustling Jewish American population, he charts the decline of the city and the white flight to the suburbs following the Newark race riots."
In April, his dad, Matt Axelrod, the cantor at Congregation Beth Israel, made a cameo appearance in HBO's miniseries adaptation of Roth's best-seller The Plot Against America.
Springsteen was chosen because he "transports readers from crumbling cities and burgeoning suburbs to small blue-collar New Jersey towns."
"The Boss" tells the story of the working-class laborer whose life is thrown in disarray from the downfall of the factory," said Axelrod, who last winter traveled through the Badlands in South Dakota with his brother, Judah, and couldn’t help but play Springsteen’s song of the same name as they did it.
Díaz, who was born in the Dominican Republic and transplanted to New Jersey as a child, becomes Literary Jersey’s authority on immigration, the crucial undercurrent to the tradition that informs the state’s demographic, mobility, class, institutions, and language. "With vibrant prose interspersed with Spanish, Díaz gives voice to the state’s Latin American and immigrant population, detailing the tribulations of acclimatization," Axelrod wrote.
During his college career, Axelrod covered breaking news including crime, sports and weather updates during night shift as sole digital editor for The Advocate, Louisiana's largest daily newspaper. He also interned at NPR, where he converted Morning Edition and All Things Considered radio pieces into web stories and wrote digital-exclusive stories for the NPR.org homepage. He also traveled abroad and wrote articles for the Jerusalem Post in Israel. He was the recipient of the Dean's Honor Scholarship at Tulane and wrote for the Tulane Hullabaloo, the school paper.
A 2016 graduate of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, Axelrod was the editor-in-chief of The Fanscotian. He also served as choir vice president and won the Mr. Spiffy High contest during his senior year. He also participated in SPFHS's senior project program in which he covered school and community events for TAPintoSPF.
"Interning at TAPintoSPF during my senior year of high school was an invaluable experience that first introduced me to the world of local journalism," Axelrod said. "Coupled with my time at SPFHS’s newspaper The Fanscotian, I gained crucial reporting skills and learned all about my community."
Like thousands of college students across the nation, Axelrod missed out on attending his graduation ceremony at Tulane this month.
"It’s definitely sad to miss out on a rite of passage, but this doesn’t diminish the work or accomplishments of high school and college students in any way," he said. "We all worked incredibly hard to get to where we are, so I hope everyone is finding ways to celebrate while staying safe."
His advice to members of the SPFHS class of 2020?
"Go to professors' office hours, don’t opt for the unlimited meal plan, keep in touch with your high school teachers, read books outside of class, and stay curious," Axelrod said.
Meanwhile, his own future begins now at NJ Advance Media.
"My position has me rotate through the newsroom’s various desks, like politics and breaking news," said Axelrod. "Though I suspect, at least for the first few months, it will be coronavirus coverage around the clock for all reporters."
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