WORDS / KODY FORD
PHOTO / KAT WILSON
Tony Tost’s career trajectory has had its highs and lows. Shortly after finishing his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas, he won the 2003 Walt Whitman Award for his debut poetry collection Invisible Bride. A few years later while completing his doctoral dissertation at Duke University, Tost also wrote a book about Johnny Cash’s comeback album American Recordings that was published by Continuum Books as part of their 33 ⅓ series.
While at Duke, Tost found himself not far from his former UA classmate and future True Detective creator, Nic Pizzolatto, who was teaching at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. They bonded over a love of film and HBO shows such as The Sopranos. In 2010, film rights to Pizzolatto’s first novel were optioned and he headed to California to pursue screenwriting. He encouraged Tost to write scripts of his own and eventually passed along some of Tost’s screenplays to his agents, which landed Tost writing gigs on shows like A&E’s drama, Longmire.
After five years of writing and eventually producing for Longmire, Tost’s own original drama Damnation has now been picked up for 10 episodes, with its premiere tentatively set for October of this year. Co-produced by the USA network and Netflix, the show is set to break a few television taboos by combining period storytelling with contemporary political themes. Set in Iowa during the Great Depression, the show focuses on Seth and Amelia Davenport, political radicals who become convinced that the only way to sell their message is to pose as a traveling Christian preacher and his obedient wife. They will face off against Seth’s longtime nemesis Creeley Turner, a Pinkerton who makes his living busting up labor strikes and killing off radicals like Seth and Amelia.
Tost promises a pulpy feel with lots of violence and sex. Damnation draws inspiration from a variety of works by everyone from Dashiell Hammett to Clint Eastwood to John Steinbeck, while the labor issues were inspired by his own history. “My parents were day and night custodians at my elementary school and the president and secretary of their labor union,” he said. “I grew up with union talk at dinner table and it became my political lens. For me, issues of labor and class have always been the basis of my political identity.”
Damnation is on Tuesday nights on USA at 9 p.m. CST.