Pete Dexter Introduction, by Marion Roach (2/10/05)
Fred Allen once said that "To a newspaperman a human being is an item with the skin wrapped around it."
Samuel Freedman - Introduction April 12, 2005
An aspiring non-fiction writer can glean more simply from reading one of Sam Freedman's books than he could learn during most semester-long journalism courses.
Sam's writing is textured with detail, his evocations of specific moments that occurred more than half a century ago are so tactile and immediate, that I'm sure many readers stop once or twice each chapter to ask themselves, "how could he know that?" The answer is in the end-notes, which, in Sam's books, are as voluminous as the chapters themselves. He is a virtuoso in the art of transforming newspaper clips, court documents, interviews, home movies, news footage, and even weather reports into rich and fluent prose.
Like most artists who have taken the time to master a style, Sam has no patience for those who resort to short cuts. In the notes to his new book, he writes, "I have grown troubled over the past several years about the seeming license that the terms "literary journalism," "family history," or "memoir" give for an author to blend, blur, or altogether ignore the line between fact and fiction, reality and invention." In Sam's work, a reader will find no such license.
Who She Was: My Search for My Mother's Life is his fifth book. Previously he had written Small Victories: The Real World of a Teacher, Her Students and Their High School; Upon This Rock: The Miracles of a Black Church; The Inheritance: How Three Families and America Moved from Roosevelt to Reagan and Beyond, and Jew Versus Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry, which won the National Jewish Book Award in 2001. He was a staff writer for The New York Times in the 1980s, and remains a frequent contributor to the paper.
Since 1991, he has also taught a book-writing seminar at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. The course has a unique reputation in the publishing industry. Proposals written with Sam's guidance skip right to the top of the pile on editors' and agents' desks. To date, more than 30 books conceived in that classroom have either found their way to the stores or are currently in production. None of them would have been possible without his teaching, and each one bears the mark of his exacting seriousness, and his respect for the historian's covenant with the reader - that every word between the covers must be true.
The book-seminar, though, is not for the weak. Tall and fit, with an oppressive erudition, and frowning eyebrows that expressed any emotion so long as it was disapproval, Professor Freedman was a simply terrifying presence on campus. Whispered rumors said his students were often reduced to tears - and those rumors were true. After looking over the first week's assignments, he printed up a list of our clichés and grammatical errors and passed them around for everyone to see. When one of my early attempts failed to come to a satisfying conclusion, he compared my writing to coitus interruptus. If we students were feeling overwhelmed, he comforted us with the saying: "you can sleep when you're dead."
On our first day, he told us he was going to start with a documentary that had been made about the book seminar - then he popped in the Spanish Inquisition scene from Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part I. It was clear that Sam enjoyed the persona of stern taskmaster, that it was part of his effectiveness as a teacher. But his new book is so beautiful and so disarming, it displays such sensitivity and vulnerability, revealing his soft side so completely, that I wonder if the glowering and scary Professor Freedman is gone forever.
Certainly, he will have to tighten the screws on his next incoming class, if he is to remain journalism school's Torquemada. And it makes me feel relieved to have already passed through the ringer.
Please help me to welcome my friend and mentor, author and professor, Sam Freedman …
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"Walking on Water"
An Evolved Love Story from Pam Houston
Not having a pet, I was a bit skeptical when I heard that Pam Houston's new book "Sight Hound" (2005) was based on a relationship between a woman and her dog. Let's face it, the depth and complexity of human-animal relationships is hard to grasp when the closest you've come to owning a pet was that time when your sister got to take the 3rd grade class gerbil home for a night. On the other hand, knowing Pam Houston's fresh perspectives and gutsy writing, I was excited to read her first novel no matter what the subject. As it turns out, "Sight Hound" proves that you don't have to be a pet owner to understand human-animal companionship, and Houston has done it with style and honesty that makes readers think twice about the primacy of human relationships.
It would be a mistake, however, to describe "Sight Hound" as a novel simply about pet ownership or human-animal companionship. This novel is grounded in relationships of all types. The plot revolves around Rae Rutherford, a playwright living in Colorado who splits her time between an apartment in Denver and her ranch in Mineral County. While the plot centers around Rae's life, and is set in a specific three-year period, the story is told by a handful of characters. Each chapter is broken into numerous sections, which are narrated by Rae and her many companions. Although Rae is the only character who speaks consistently in each chapter, her voice does not dominate the novel; Rae's companions, human and animal, tell the bulk of this story.
The first chapter opens the novel with brief references to people in Rae's life: Peter, the ex-fiance who ran off when Rae was at the grocery store; Mona, her loopy camping friend; Jonathan, Rae's writing partner and travel buddy; and Dante, a seven-year old Irish wolfhound that Rae will drop everything for. The details of the first chapter, which is quite short and narrated solely by Rae, gather meaning later in the novel when these people and situations are fit into the larger context.
What really grabs readers in "Sight Hound" is Houston's character development, and this extends to Rae's dogs, Dante and Rose just as much as the human characters. This is a grand feat considering the number of characters who participate in the story and narration. For example, Houston gives a thorough history of Dr. Evans and Brooklyn Underhill, the veterinarian and resident vet student who treated Dante at the animal hospital. Both Evans and Underhill narrate their own chapters, giving the power of voice to the characters themselves. This is a privilege that Houston denies Rae's mother, father and childhood friend Victoria, who have undoubtedly had more of an impact on Rae's life, but are not central to her current situation or to that of Dante, the other main character. If the novel were just about Rae, Evans and Underhill would probably not be as significant as they are in "Sight Hound"; but the novel is about companionship and love between Rae and Dante, and the supporting characters are those people who have been intimately involved in their relationship.
The second chapter gives the background on Dante's health history, particularly how he recovered from osteosarcoma in his left front leg. Under the care of Dr. Evans, Dante became the first patient to successfully undergo a new surgical procedure; this miracle made Evans famous and saved Dante's life. Sometimes people don't realize that animals develop the same kind of life-threatening conditions that humans develop, and Houston has illustrated the many issues that pet owners face when their animal companions develop a terminal illness. Using the perspective and insight of various characters, Houston emphasizes the issues and difficulty such quality of life decisions pose for pet owners: should I end my pet's suffering? How can I afford all these medical expenses? Am I being selfish at the cost of my pet's happiness? By allowing Dante to express his thoughts to the reader, Houston has powerfully conveyed an animal viewpoint that is sometimes overlooked. This helps readers grasp the complexity and depth of human-animal companionship, a dynamic that is not limited to human relationships.
Dante narrates the first section of chapter two, telling the readers that his duty in "this" life is to make sure his human, Rae, finds another human who will love and take care of her as he has done. Dante must teach Rae trust and love so that she can extend what she has learned in her companionship with him to her human relationships. Dante's introduction includes his unique perception of humans:
"There are three principles to remember if you are to teach a human being anything, and they are consistency, consistency, consistency. They are such fragile creatures to begin with, with poor eyes, poor hearing, and no sense of smell left to speak of, it's no wonder they are made of fear" (27).This statement reflects the work that Dante has to do to help Rae move on from the pain and suffering she carries from her childhood and past romantic relationships.
As the story develops, the symbiotic relationship between Rae and Dante unfolds in situations, behavior, and thoughts expressed by both pet and owner. They are completely dedicated to each other. Their intimate relationship is not like human companionship; Rae and Dante have a straightforward understanding and commitment that is based on the simple things in life. As shown in "Sight Hound," the most basic connections often turn out to be the pillars supporting our foundation, that unconditional love can bridge borders that other bonds can't, even if this love comes from a fluffy four-legged creature. Rae and Dante's companionship is subtly central to all other relationships in "Sight Hound," playing a crucial part in character transformations and plot development.
The depth of Houston's character development is also grounded in the revolving narration. Situations and events are usually recounted or described by many different characters, although a situation that occurred in the first chapter might not resurface until the end of the book when a different character is speaking. Take, for example, the scene where a mutual friend introduced Rae and Howard, a local actor, after a theater production. Rae partially describes the scene in the first chapter, which is then described by Howard much later in the novel after the playwright and actor have married. The scene is also recounted by Dante and Rose at different points in the novel, but for different reasons. Frequently, a scene is recalled in order to relate it to some other situation or event. Rose used the scene to demonstrate that Howard was superior to previous boyfriends, whereas Dante used the scene to size up Howard and analyze the way humans interact:
"He divided his time equally between Rose and me, complimenting us both on our best features, Rose's platinum blond Tina Turneresque coat, and my bone structure, particularly that of my face, which has been the model for more than one sculptor over the years… They were standing around the way humans do when they are nervous, and interested, not allowing each other so much as a sniff. The conversation wasn't much to write home about, but I do remember him saying,The dialogue between Howard and Rae emphasizes the importance of Dante and Rose; revisiting the scene through the eyes of different characters reinforces the significance of its theme, which is the centrality of animal companions. This allows insight that would not be possible if the story had a single narrator."I'm glad I met the dogs." And her saying,It's so mystifying to those of us who have only rudimentary--albeit subtle--language skills, why a breed with such advanced skills so often fails to use them. They just kept standing there, silent, neither of them acknowledging their attraction, Rose wagging her tail for all she was worth, me more reserved of course, but offering little grunts of enthusiasm as Howard rubbed in the deep cavities behind my ears" (112).
"Sight Hound" is a dynamic story, one that challenges the narrow beliefs that often accompany our interactions with animals. So often we overlook small, daily routines unaware of the impact they have on our lives. By highlighting the central position that pets hold in the lives of their owners, Houston shows that human-animal companionship can be valued and understood on different levels. The way we interact with our environment is determined by how we think about our environment. Robert Olen Butler, author of "A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain" says, "Pam Houston is a wonder, moving with grace and humor and insight from the inner voice and soul of human to canine to feline and back again. 'Sight Hound' is not only a narrative tour de force but a brilliant examination of what it means-in the deepest sense-to be alive on this planet." Pet ownership is not a prerequisite for readers interested in this book. The intimacy of Houston's work makes impact through her creativity.
Houston's first book, "Cowboys Are My Weakness" (1992), won the 1993 Western States Book Award and launched her successful writing career. According to the Milwaukee Journal, "Many of these short gems owe their entire core to the west, which, more a character than a setting, allows subtle interplay to occur between Houston's strong, modern women and the prairie or rangeland they temporarily inhabit." Each of the twelve short stories features strong women and their trials with equally strong men, often involving outdoor activities, sportsmanship, or rustic lifestyles. In "Dall" and "Selway" the women risk their lives just to be by the side of the man they love; boredom ruins a relationship in "Cowboys Are My Weakness" and in "A Blizzard Under Blue Sky" the woman tries to cure winter depression by camping with her dogs in dangerous weather conditions. Essentially, these are stories of single women defining their lives amid the contemporary American backdrop.
Pam Houston's second collection of short stories, "Waltzing the Cat" (1998) won the Willa Award for Contemporary Fiction, and is connected to "Cowboys Are My Weakness." Other work by Houston includes "Women on Hunting" (1994), "A Little More About Me" (1999), "Men Before 10am" (1996), and the stage play "Tracking the Pleiades." Houston's stories have appeared in the Best American Short Stories, the Best American Short Stories of the Century, and have been nominated for the O. Henry Award and the Pushcart Prize. Currently Houston is the Director of Creative Writing at UC Davis and teaches at summer writing workshops around the world.
By Alison Kenner, M.A. student in the Women's Studies Department.
Memory and Its Role in Kazuo Ishiguro's Novels
Kazuo Ishiguro explores memory and the role that the past plays in the present lives of his characters in his many novels including his most recent work Never Let Me Go, and The Remains of the Day for which he won a Booker Prize. The protagonists of his books often work to gain an understanding of the past as a way to integrate it with their present realities. They are, however, often confounded by their lack of available information or their unwillingness to honestly examine certain elements of their own lives, and they also fall victim to the gaps inherent in memory itself.
Never Let Me Go (2005) is set in the idyllic English countryside at the progressive Hailsham School for boys and girls. The tranquil setting, however, becomes ominous as the narrator Kathy H., now 31, relates the events of her life and those of her close friends Tommy and Ruth. She explains how she and her classmates were raised "to know and not know" that they were human clones created to donate their organs in the prime of their life. They grew up taking for granted that they would be "carers" first and then "donors" until after their fourth donation, when they "completed." As one guardian explained to them in an effort to debunk their romantic notions: "Your lives are set out for you. You'll become adults, then before you're old, before you're even middle-aged you'll start to donate your vital organs. That's what each of you was created to do. You're not like the actors you watch on your videos, you're not even like me" (81). As Kathy H. finishes her ten-year career as a carer for the other donors and moves into the next stage of her life where she will also become a donor, she reminisces about her youth and explores with her friends the mysteries of their childhood. These mysteries include trying to determine whom the figure "Madame" really was and the role of art in their education-the best of which was confiscated for an unseen "gallery."
Regardless of the mysteries and dark origins of her childhood, Kathy finds comfort and companionship in her memories about it. In a revealing passage that echoes many of the concerns of Ishiguro's other novels, Kathy explains her feelings: "I was talking to one of my donors a few days ago who was complaining about how memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don't go along with that. The memories I value most, I don't see them ever fading. I lost Ruth, and I lost Tommy, but I won't lose my memories of them" (286). In Ishiguro's novels, memory becomes like a shadow for many of the characters-something they not only learn to live with but that they eventually find comfort in by its sheer inevitability of its always being there. Though many of Ishiguro's characters are unwilling to honestly come to terms completely with their past, it is something they return to over and again.
In Never Let Me Go there is another aspect to the characters' lives that functions much like their memory and serves to further complicate and extend Ishiguro's themes and concerns: the "possibles." The narrator explains them in the following way: "Since each of us was copied at some point from a normal person, there must be, for each of us, somewhere out there a model getting on with his or her life. This meant, at least in theory, you'd be able to find the person you were modeled from. That's why, when you were out there yourself-in the towns, shopping centres, transport cafes-you kept an eye out for 'possibles' (139)." The "possibles" are the closest things that the characters have to parents and a family. They function like the characters' memories in that while the "possibles" are always out there somewhere much of their reality is shrouded in secrecy and unknowingness. Hence, they become another kind of a memory for Kathy and her friends-a theme which is taken up in many of Ishiguro's other works albeit in very different settings.
The Remains of the Day (1989), Ishiguro's third novel, won the Booker Prize for Fiction and received wide-spread popular acclaim. Stevens, an aged butler, narrates the work and unknowingly reveals many things about the world around him that he is oblivious to as he reminisces upon his past and his "life of service" to a "great gentleman." As he becomes a butler for an American who is quite different in his expectations and affectations, Stevens takes his new employer's previously inconceivable suggestion to take a brief vacation. During this time, he probes the concerns closest to his heart including his view of Great Britain: "What precisely is this 'greatness'?…This whole question is very akin to the question that has caused much debate in our profession over the years: what is a 'great' butler?" (28-29) Yet even as Stevens upholds the "nobility" of his career and his former esteemed employer, disconcerting details arise and must be justified or carefully explained.
Other novels by Ishiguro include A Pale View of the Hills (1982), which won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, An Artist of the Floating World (1986), which won the Whitbread Book of the year, The Unconsoled (1995) and When We Were Orphans (2000). He has also written two screenplays for television and a screenplay titled The Saddest Music in the World, a melodrama set in the 1930s, starring Isabella Rossellini.
Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954 and moved to England in 1960. He currently lives in London with his wife and daughter. He was awarded the OBE in 1995 for services to literature and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 1998. His work has been translated into over 30 languages.
Creating a Sphere of His Own: Edward P. Jones's A Known World
Author of only two books, Edward P. Jones has quickly won national attention and critical acclaim for his short story volume Lost in the City (1992) and novel The Known World (2003). Lost in the City is a collection of stories that take place in Washington D.C. and follow the lives of average people who are literally or figuratively lost. The stories take place during the 50's, 60's, and 70's and trace the struggles and difficulties of our nation's capital during that time period. Though the characters are black, Washington Post Book World reviewer Jonathan Yardley explains that "it is more accurate to say that he writes about people who happen to be black. For that reason his stories will touch chords of empathy and recognition in all readers, which is exactly what fiction is supposed to do." Critics and readers alike have "empathized" with Jones's characters and Lost in the City won the Ernest Hemingway/PEN award, was nominated for the National Book Award in 1992, and the first printing of the book sold out.
Jones's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Known World, presents a complex cross-section of the lives of freed and enslaved blacks, whites and Indians living in the United States during the 1800s. Set in Manchester County, Virginia, the novel follows the life of Henry Townsend a black farmer and former slave who becomes proprietor of his own plantation and slaves with the help of the wealthiest white man in the county, William Robbins. His death marks a tragedy for his widow and heir, Caldonia, and the beginning of the downfall off his plantation and the lives around him.
A number of "Known Worlds" are presented in the novel including the world of the South, the world of Manchester County, the world of Townsends' and Robbins' plantations, and the world of the characters themselves. At the beginning of the book, the many characters and story lines seem disjointed and difficult to reconcile like the map of "The Known World" that Sheriff Skiffington has hanging in his jail: "The map had come from the Russian in twelve parts, each weighting about three pounds, and Skiffington had had a time putting it together" (175). As the novel progress, however, these worlds intersect and collide at various junctures and provide tension and an insight into the characters' lives from many different points of view.
Many of these worlds are presented by the author through lists of details. We learn a number of historical facts about the South and Manchester County including figures from a census report that stated that in 1840 there were "2,191 slaves, 142 free Negroes, 939 whites, and 136 Indians," (22) the numbers and kinds of plantations, and particulars like the fact that "a 1912 fire killed ten people, including the Negro caretaker of the building where the records were kept, and five dogs, and two horses" (176). These specifics, which seem to be delivered in an objective manner, serve to delineate the historical data of the era and to also reveal the social atmosphere of the age with its multifaceted nuances.
Like the world of the South and Manchester County, the plantations also come alive in the novel with detailed sketches of their occupants. We learn not only about Henry Townsend but also about all the people connected to him: his wife, his parents, his childhood caretaker, his master (and his children and family), his foreman and slaves, his friends, and the sheriff of his region. The characters themselves are often described from birth to death with accounts of important events in their lives. Hence, we learn a great deal about each character even if they are a minor figure in the novel like the young girl Tessie:
"Hi you, Missus?" Tessie said. She was carrying her doll because her brothers had been playing with it more than she was comfortable with. "That's such a pretty doll," Fern said.
"My daddy made it for me," Tessie said. She would repeat those words just before she died, a little less than ninety years later. Her father had been on her mind all that dying morning, and she asked one of her great-grandchildren to go to the attic and find the doll. (350)
Similarly, Jones uses details and often jumps over large segments of time to give the reader a full picture of the lives of his major and minor characters alike.
In the same way that critics and readers lauded the characters in Jones's first book, they have also been drawn to the individuals that populate The Known World. The QBRL: The Black Book Review called The Known World "complex, beautifully written, and breathtaking…the book will knock the wind out of you with the depth of its compassion" for the characters that it describes. When asked about his particularly strong female roles, Jones explained, "When you are raised by a woman who had it hard and you are sensitive to how hard a life she had, you don't necessarily look around and think of women as fragile creatures, slave or otherwise. You develop the belief that they can "make a way out of no way'." In addition to Caldonia, these women include Fern Elston who educates the illiterate, Celeste who overcomes her physical disabilities, and Alice Night who creates art that transcends the difficult life of slavery.
The figure of Alice Night is particularly important in the novel for her character functions on a number of levels. Alice is the madwoman who is forever breaking boundaries around her "known world" by wandering past the physical perimeters of the plantation, by breaking the social conventions of slaves, and by creating her own "world" through her madness that she may have contrived in the first place. Yet Alice is also the woman who knows her physical and social world better than any of the others and the one ultimately who is able to survive the best on her own and create something out of the hardships of life. Near the end of the book, Caladonia's brother describes seeing Alice's art work:
People were viewing an enormous wall hanging, a grand piece of art that is part tapestry, part painting, and part clay structure-all in one exquisite Creation…a map of life of the County of Manchester, Virginia. But a "map" is such a poor word for such a wondrous thing. It is a map of life made with every kind of art man has ever thought to represent himself….It is what God sees when He looks down on Manchester. (384) In this creative gesture, unlike the Skiffington's poor map of the world, Alice has not only transcended the world of slavery and madness but she has become a kind of supernatural figure through her creation of this world that contains all the intricacies and beauty of real life. Arguably, this is what Jones himself has done in his novel The Known World through his careful rendering of his complex characters being woven together with a rich history and locale.
Jones was born in 1950 and raised in Washington D.C. He was educated at Holy Cross College and the University of Virginia. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Essence, and Ploughshares among other publications. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2004.
"Reclaiming Legacy: Fighting Hegemony with Family History"
Thai Jones' Radical Look at Moral Duty
Who decides what goes down in historical records and which events become legacy? Do we measure a story's value by its popularity, its impact, or just by how many people have heard it? Some argue that the history we are familiar with is incomplete and subjective, one side of one story. Others claim that, for various reasons, we have lost our history or parts of it. The implications of "inaccurate" history has spurred efforts to go back to our roots, uncover what has been covered over, and tell the stories that were never allowed to be told. Why is this kind of historical digging important in our lives today? That depends entirely on who is doing the digging. For Thai Jones, author of A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family's Century of Conscience (2004), the decision to investigate the past came from a desire to understand his own life experiences. What he found was a morally charged family narrative, grounded in the complexities of 20th century United States history.
A Radical Line begins with Thai Jones' first memory: an FBI raid that ended in the arrest of both his parents. If this was your first memory, wouldn't you want to investigate the event? Wouldn't you want to know why, by the age of four, your name had been changed several times? Indeed, these early childhood memories are exactly the details Jones returned to as a graduate student in Columbia University's School of Journalism. Jones began to research this memory for a class assignment; he was oblivious to the background leading up to his parent's arrest. Apparently, no one had ever told Thai Jones that he comes from a long line of political dissenters; that his forebears were conscientious objectors during World War II, members of the Communist party during the fifties, and activists of the Weather Underground, an organization that bombed homeland government targets. Why did such a rich and important family history remain untouched for so many years? Passing on this heritage becomes increasingly difficult when considering the weight attached to organized action that not only opposes, but attacks the ideologies and practices of a powerful government. On the other hand, if your parents and grandparents had the courage to stand up and act for social justice when it was not only unpopular, but dangerous to do so, chances are political consciousness is already in your blood. What makes A Radical Line so important, and provocative, is that it's grounded in family. The characters are not merely faceless activists, hardened party leaders, or fringe radicals; these powerful actors were high school athletes, church-goers, honor roll students, musicians, fashion junkies, spouses, parents and children whose lives are personal just as much as they are political. Far too often our history is disconnected from the very context and process that made it possible. Far too often "legacy" is defined by historians who only investigate what is popular, acceptable, accessible, while discrediting and overlooking particular stories that are the exception, not the rule. Not on Thai Jones' watch, and not with his family history.
After opening A Radical Line with his first FBI encounter, Jones introduces the four main "characters" of the book: his parents Jeff Jones and Eleanor Raskin, Jeff's father Albert Jones, and Eleanor's mother, Annie Stein. The date is March 6, 1970, Eleanor Raskin passed through a chaotic Greenwich Village where emergency vehicles rushed to a smoking building blocks away. Jeff Jones was in San Francisco, wandering the city and organizing an underground movement via pay phone. That afternoon Jeff and Eleanor lost three friends in what Jones refers to as "the townhouse" explosion. Terry Robbins, Diana Oughton, and Teddy Gold, three members of the Weathermen, were killed when a bomb was accidentally detonated. Both Jeff Jones and Eleanor Raskin were acquainted with the victims through the Students for a Democratic Society.
Jeff joined the student movement in his first year at Antioch, which ended up being his last year when political passion and moral duty led him to the role of full-time activist. As an organizer for the SDS, Jeff moved up the ranks and into leadership where he networked with radical student activists from across the country. At some point during 1969, a sect of progressive and militant SDS members started to break from the mainstream antiwar movement; they called themselves the Weathermen and Jeff was one of its most inspiring advocates. Absent from the book are specific accounts of Jeff's activities within the organization, leaving readers to wonder if Thai Jones omitted information about his father's role or if he was never privy to such details.
As a Columbia University law student, Eleanor Raskin also joined the SDS, although her role within the organization was rather ambiguous as described in A Radical Line. What is clear is that both Jeff and Eleanor aligned with the Weathermen when the group split from the SDS at the end of the 1960s. The townhouse explosion marked a transition for the Weathermen, a group intent on waging guerilla warfare against an imperialist, oppressive government: the United States. After the accident, hundreds of activists affiliated with the Weathermen became fugitives, forced to go underground if they wanted to continue with their fringe activism. The tragedy also intersected with some of the values that Jeff's father Albert had passed along to him. Albert Jones, a conscientious objector during World War II, told Jeff before the Days of Rage, "Son, I believe very strongly in your goals. But if you set out to hurt somebody, I would hope and pray that you are hurt first" (218). Although Jeff did not subscribe to the pacifist tactics of his Quaker father, the townhouse explosion shifted the group's emphasis in part because of Jeff's transformed creed: no more human casualties;
"Jeff and Bernadine returned to San Francisco. Only at the Mendocino meeting, where they had argued down the most bellicose strategists of the left, could theirs' have been the position of moderation. In the larger perspective of the antiwar movement, Jeff still inhabited the lunatic fringe. A few weeks after the meeting, Weathermen released its Declaration of a State of War that promised to attack a symbol of Amerikan injustice within fourteen days. It was difficult to view it as a document created by the group's peaceful wing - it certainly would not have satisfied Albert's conception of pacifism - but that is what is was…From then on, Weathermen's targets would be symbols of American power rather than the bodies of American humans" (220).
Although divided by their conception of political activism, Jeff apparently valued his father's beliefs enough to shift the target of the Weathermen's violence, a decision that undoubtedly saved many lives.
The contrast between the Jones and the Stein family is quite remarkable, though the blend is complex. Eleanor's parents, Annie and Arthur were members of the Communist underground during the 1940s and 50s. Annie, a forward thinking intellectual by the time she left high school, worked as an organizer in various social movements: the antiwar, labor, and civil rights movements, and as grandson Thai Jones comments, "In fifty years, she had never missed a cause" (266). Arthur Stein was also quite political, although often more light-hearted than his militant wife. Serving as president for his chapter of the United Federal Workers of America, Arthur worked with government offices and organizations in an effort to reform the system using its infrastructure. But by the early 1940s, the federal government was cracking down on progressive activities and targeting American Communists. Arthur Stein fell into this category as a government employee, union leader, and member of the Communist underground. Apparently, he was not only a member of the Communist underground, but "important 'upstairs'" as FBI informant Louise Gerrard later reported.
Despite Arthur's work in the labor movement and his appearances before the Committee on Un-American Activities, it was Annie Stein who first caught the government's eye while speaking at a National Student League convention in 1933. Before the age of 21 Annie Stein became a target of government surveillance, a file that remained open and active until her death in 1981 (and for all we know possibly after). Is it any surprise that, 35 years later, twenty-two year old Eleanor walked out of her law class to join the Students for a Democratic Society who were protesting outside her classroom?
"Soon after law school began, Eleanor went with her mother to the protest at the Pentagon. Annie was as militant as protesters one-third her age; she had had all that extra time to store up hatred for the military. Eleanor watched her mother scale a wire fence and shout wild curses at the building. Eleanor hung back. She was on her way to becoming a lawyer, and her mother's behavior seemed excessive, even unseemly" (163).
Just two years later Eleanor would be arrested for storming a Pittsburgh high school and starting a riot to advertise for the Days of Rage. As one of the main organizers for the Days of Rage, Jeff Jones would have been impressed by his future wife's dedication, although it would be at least another year and half before the couple would have a chance to fall in love.
Jeff Jones did not follow in his parent's footsteps in the same way that Eleanor followed in her parents. By the end of World War II both Albert and Millie Jones had become Quakers, an effect of Albert's decision to remain a pacifist and accept placement in a conscientious objector camp. While pacifism may have been a noble choice as a Methodist teenager who traveled to churches around Southern California to speak about nonviolence,
"Albert's church, which had guided his path toward peace, now betrayed him. An older minister, hearing that he was going to be a conscientious objector, grabbed him by the shoulders and said, "Think about what you are doing young man." After Pearl Harbor, the Methodists abandoned twenty years of peace work… Many young men around the country who had grown up in the same pacifist movement were left to face a grave dilemma alone" (73).
Despite his highly unpopular decision, Albert's wife Millie actively supported him. After three years without pay or benefits in the conscientious objector camp, Albert renewed his moral duty by volunteering for the UN relief effort.
Readers may be led to ask, how could the son of such devout Quakers grow up to become one of the leaders of a radical and militant antiwar group in the late 60s? The answer may lie in the politics. It wasn't that Jeff and Albert had opposing political views, quite the contrary. Thai Jones reproduced a letter Jeff had written to his father at the end of his first year at Antioch, "Reading this letter gave Albert a good chuckle. It sounded almost identical to the work he had done as a member of the pacifism movement of the 1930s" (133). Undoubtedly thirty years produced a gap in social, political, and cultural context, a gap that defined the polarity of activism between father and son. In the summer of 1936, Albert signed on as a pacifist; forty years later, Albert watched a documentary on the Weather Underground Organization, a band of fugitives trying to "bring the war home" and overthrow the government. His son Jeff was one of the most outspoken members and expressed his opinions vehemently, "And I feel that pacifism and non-violence becomes an excuse for not struggling…We are not going to let the war in Vietnam be over" (242-3). Apparently Jeff failed to appreciate the hardships his parents faced and the courageous strength needed to make a stand without fighting.
Reading such a rich family history, an account embedded within several decades of political culture, leaves us to wonder where the author falls on the continuum. How does Thai Jones relate to social justice as the son and grandson of some of the most radical activists in 20th century America? As readers we can only speculate; Jones does not indulge his audience with his personal opinions, but predominantly reports as a detached commentator. Of course it would be naïve to say that the author's subjectivity was left at the door, especially after noting that Jones begins and ends the book describing his own experiences with the FBI. More important is the book itself, a story of political actors who both shaped and were shaped by historical events. A Radical Line illustrates the formidable connections between individual, family, and social climate; that life is not simply determined by our background, our decisions, or our beliefs but unfolds in a network that obscures many of the details and accounts which continue to change our world. Thai Jones has affected our history by digging into his family's heritage. What would be uncovered if more of us asked where our relatives stood on the battlefield?
By Alison Kenner, graduate student at UAlbany's Women's Studies Department.
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Noted for her productive career of over forty years, Maxine Kumin is the author of thirteen poetry books and a number of novels, children's books and collections of essays. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her fourth volume of poetry Up Country in 1972 and has continued to maintain an active presence in the contemporary poetry scene. This presence has only been challenged by her near fatal accident falling from a horse in 1998. Since her dramatic recovery, she has produced two books of poetry The Long Marriage (2002) and most recently Jack and Other Poems (2005). These works complement and further her earlier career of pastoral poetry and later her fervent advocacy for wildlife conservation and animal welfare in addition to her other subject matters. Ellen Davis writing for the Harvard Review claims that "Kumin sustains her equal measures of interest in the literary, the political, the natural, and the personal, just as she's done throughout her writing life." At the same time though, Kumin's more recent books take on a new urgency in relation to the themes of death, leaving a legacy, and her own relationship to poets and intellectuals who have gone before her.
In The Long Marriage, the poem "Thinking of Gorki While Clearing a Trail" exemplifies Kumin's heightened attention to these concerns. The poem opens with two stanzas of description of the poet narrator as she goes for a walk on a rainy day with her dogs. She considers the scene before her, which includes a large number of Boletus mushrooms, and ruminates on how some animals can eat things that are poisonous to humans. At this point, she turns her attention for two stanzas to the figure of Gorki before ending with the following lines:
Born Aleksei Maksimovich PeshkovHere, as in other poems, Kumin sees Gorki as both a figure that she wants to live up to as well as a peer with whom she shares experiences. The present tense of the last verb "as we go" confirms that the narrator sees herself and Gorki (long dead) as contemporaries. This incongruous situation is made possible by the narrator's expectation that she is nearing the end of her life and may soon join the realm that Gorki inhabits.
Other revealing "pocket guides" that Kumin includes in The Long Marriage are her former friend and mentor Anne Sexton, Muriel Rukeyser, Marianne Moore, Rainer Maria Rilke, and William Wordsworth. In some of these poems, she reminisces from a distance on the legacy of her mentors before turning to the personal-where they have touched and have changed her life. She remembers, for example, Muriel Rukeyser's "spraddle-legged" stance and the way she would declaim her poetry, and then she explains her own struggles with physical rehab in the poem "Mother of All." In other poems, the poet narrator and her guides inhabit the same space. In "Imagining Marianne Moore in the Butterfly Garden," Kumin and Moore wander through the garden together taking in the wonder of the natural world and sharing insights with each other. Regardless of how Kumin narrates her poems, each of these figures serve to guide her present practice as a poet.
Kumin's greatest inspiration, however, is still nature. "Inescapably" she says, "many poems come up out of the earth I live on and tend to." This tendency is evident in the poems from The Long Marriage such as "Bringing Down the Birds," "Grand Canyon," and "The Greenhouse Effect." Kumin's new book, Jack and Other New Poems is also populated by work that shows how nature is a muse and a means to explore time and mortality. These include pieces such as "Widow and Dog," "Seven Caveats in May," and "The Apparition."
In the title poem of the book, "Jack," the poet narrator remembers a cold winter when she needed to stable all of her horses due to the inclement weather. She describes, in particular, the horse named Jack: "One of them / a big-nosed roan gelding, calm as a president's portrait / lives in the rectangle that leads to the stalls. We call it / the motel lobby. Wise old campaigner, he dunks his / hay in the water bucket to soften it and then visits the others" (59-60). The following summer, the poet narrator relates Jack is lent to a neighbor and then sold. She admits that she does not go to look for her lost horse, though she meant to.
Kumin, then, completes the poem with the lines: "Oh Jack, tethered in what rough stall alone // did you remember that one good winter?" Taken together, this poem is more than an anecdote of a horse. It is also a commentary on loss, memory, and nostalgia. Though the poem does not allude to it directly, this horse can stand in for the poet's body of work and what will become of it after she dies. In this way, the poem is also about legacy and how the memory of someone or something is just as important as their real presence. This poem, as well as the larger volume as a whole, is a very personal perspective of a poet looking back on her life and career.
In addition to the volumes mentioned above, Kumin is also the author of Selected Poems 1960-1990 (1990), Connecting the Dots (1996), Looking for Luck (1992), Nurture (1989), The Long Approach (1986), Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief: New and Selected Poems (1982), House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate (1975), and Halfway (1962). Kumin has also recently written a memoir titled Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery which relates to her riding accident at the age of 73 and her miraculous recovery. She is the author of four novels, four books of essays, most recently Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry and more than twenty children's books. Her numerous awards include the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern Poetry, an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets. She has served as Poet Laureate of New Hampshire and is a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Maxine Kumin (Introduction)
Maxine Kumin has won many prizes and awards in poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize for UpCountry: Poems of New England, the Ruth E. Lilly Poetry Prize, the Poet's Prize and the Aiken Taylor Prize.
But I don't read her for her prizes - well-deserved though they are - and I expect no one else here, after falling in love with her rhythms and rhymes, does either. This first happened for me while reading the music of "Morning Swim" (UpCountry):
I hung my bathrobe on two pegs,It is the music of the line, the sounds and the rhythms that build joy, build poetry that captivate the reader in Maxine Kumin's poems. Throughout her work there is a measured beat, a rhythm around which sings daily life details as a way to discuss major life themes. I also like swimming, and the New England countryside, but it is limiting to think of Kumin as merely a New England or nature poet, though these are not minor things. "The Excrement Poem" in The Retrieval System addresses life and life functions while immediately concerned with horse manure. "In the Park" of Nurture artfully raises issues of human commonalities in spite of religious difference, in the face of death. "The Longing to Be Saved" also from The Retrieval System begins with one of the most memorable openings in American poetry: "When the barn catches fire/ I am wearing the wrong negligee." and continues kindly and artfully to present how women help/save others they love and would like their turn to be saved by those they've helped. Throughout her collections are numerous poems dealing with war, civil liberties, with what it is to be Jewish in America (you can see this represented in her latest collection Jack), with what it is to be the displaced, broken and mending, and dogs and horses, and horses and dogs, some cows, birds, and many, many poets.
It's not unusual for poets to write about other poets who have influenced them or been extremely important to them, but I can't recall any other poet writing a poem like "Skinnydipping With William Wordsworth." It is Maxine Kumin's humor - never intrusive or mean-spirited - that often picks us up and shifts our perspective. We may never have thought of skinnydipping with William Wordsworth, but at the end of the poem it seems the right thing to do, the only thing to do with a late, great, respected poet who loved nature and who has figured in numerous important and/or intimate events in your life - not a particularly funny idea after all. The collection The Long Marriage opens with poems dedicated to and about poets Marianne Moore, Muriel Rukeyser, Rilke, and Carolyn Kizer/Yeats, to name a few. Each poem reflects a particular relationship with the poet that is both personal and part of the continuum of literary history, addressing, as these poems do, qualities or lines we all can see in the named poets' life and work.
It is poetry itself that Kumin discusses in "A Calling" (from Nurture) as she rifts on some things that Georgia O'Keeffe said regarding work, that is, her art, which O'Keeffe said switching back and forth from first to third person. "Sashaying between/ first base and shortstop as it were" describes Kumin, before noting that: "Syntax, like sex, is intimate./ One doesn't lightly leap from person/ to person." And I think that it is this care and consideration of syntax, music, and themes - the humor and cruelty and ordinary beauty of life - which Maxine Kumin's poems balance brilliantly and that make reading her poems a sensuous pleasure, a conversation with an intelligent, puckish friend, and a gentle nudge to relook at the world.
Please join me in welcoming Maxine Kumin.
Pablo Medina and Angie Cruz
Pablo Medina, novelist, poet, and essayist, is the author of eight books. Rooted in Cuban life, his works explore the exile experience and the complex emotional and psychological ground that his characters must traverse. Critic Lourdes Gil claims that "the unexpected combinations of authenticity and fiction seem both surprising and obvious, as Medina reinterprets the variant faces of political control over the centuries and reconstructs the crucible of modernity and a colonial historical tradition."
Medina's most recent novel, The Cigar Roller (2005), is narrated by the fiery Amadeo Terra. Though a stroke has incapacitated Amadeo's body to a point where he cannot communicate with the nurse or the nun who tend to him, his mind remains alive and active. During one of his dreary days seated in front of the window, the nurse feeds him a new kind of baby food: "Mango! He wants it, tubs of it, he wants all mango, mango day and mango night, mango moon and mango sun and mango sea and mango mountain and mango swamp. Nurse is mango. Home is mango. Amadeo is mango" (6). When Amadeo is given mango baby food, the taste brings back memories of his former unrepressed appetites for his mistress, his native Cuban home, his wife, Julia, and life itself. His memories find new sorrows and joys filtered through the everyday routines of his life, as he searches for himself in the choices he made that led to his present debilitated state and his probable future. While Amadeo can see clear shortcomings in his life, the one thing that he can look back on with pride was his proficiency at rolling cigars. He uses this time in his life-when he was still a young man in Cuba-as a corner stone for anchoring his other memories and present survival:
If life is imaginary tobacco is not, not its broad green leaves growing in the slow heat then harvested and set to dry in large shadowy barns. How could he have imagined the process, the treatment of the leaf, techniques of preparation, the rolling, the cutting knife, the factory, the molds the lector, Ibor City, an art, an industry, a life? Tobacco exists apart from Amadeo Terra and that leads to the conclusion that his life exists beyond his capacity to imagine. (66)
As this passage reveals, Amadeo's job was much more to him than a way to earn money. It became part of his being, part of the way that he understood himself: "There was none better for him than being a cigar roller, un torcedor: a vocation of smoke in tune with his life, with anybody's life" (164). At the same time, though, that Amadeo takes pride in his abilities as a cigar roller, he must also face the grievous truths regarding his relationships with his family and the reasons why they left him alone and near death in a nursing home.
Medina's works also include the novels The Return of Felix Nogara (2000) and The Marks of Birth (1994), the poetry collections Puntos de apoyo (2002), The Floating Island (1999), and Arching into the Afterlife (1991), and the essay collection Exiled Memories: A Cuban Childhood (1990). His work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Antioch Review, and Poetry among others. He has won an award from the CINTAS Foundation and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and from the Woodrow Wilson/Lila Wallace Reader's Digest fund. He came to the United States from Cuba in 1960 at the age of twelve. He now lives in New York City.
Angie Cruz is the author of two novels, Soledad (2001) and Let It Rain Coffee (2005). Though Cruz was born in America, her works are deeply rooted in her Dominican heritage, especially as informed by her childhood in the ethnic barrio of New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood. In an interview with Calabash, Cruz explains how her cultural upbringing impacted her first novel Soledad: "When I wrote the book, it was about community, and I was really interested in how voices sort of identify community and how language identifies a community." The voices in the novel include those of the art student Soledad who is anxious to leave her neighborhood behind, her mother whose sickness requires Soledad to return to her roots, her aunt Gorda, and her wild cousin Flaca. Soledad's challenge is to negotiate the chaos of her past in order to rebuild a relationship with her mother.
Cruz's interest in polyvocality is also evident in Let It Rain Coffee, as different members of the Colon family share their sides of the story. Initiated by the patriarch Don Chan's move to New York City to live with his son and his son's family, tensions abound between family members. Don Chan continues to fixate on the past by thinking about the small town of Los Llanos where he lived most of his life. His daughter-in-law, on the other hand, is anxious to grasp the possibilities of the future and strives to model her life according to the glamorous TV drama Dallas. Don Chan's son, Santo, becomes pulled between these opposing forces and his job as a taxi driver, as he struggles to examine the conflicting claims of his past and present.
In addition to the familial dynamics, the concerns in Let It Rain Coffee are deepened and extended by a heightened awareness of social dynamics and hierarchies. Cruz often addresses these subjects with humor as in the following selection when Don Chan is aboard the airplane enroute to New York City: "While the coffee could've settled his nerves, he didn't want to experience the awkwardness of finding the bathroom, only to obsess over the possibility that his waste would be spat into the sky. He knew the world was built in such a way that some got to piss in toilets high above everyone else while the less privileged sat at home thinking the piss was rain" (5). In passages like this and many others, Cruz uses humor to address her concerns. She brings up not only the incongruencies between the Dominican Republic and America but also her character's expectations about this "new" world that they have moved to.
In particular, Cruz examines the polarities between the rich and poor. Hence, Don Chan relates a story from his youth when he snuck his way into the capital city and walked right into the palace-taking a mail opener as proof of his feat. In this episode, he becomes aware of the discrepancy in the homes in his native village and the surroundings of those in power. These issues are also raised in America, as Esperanza longs to live a life like those she sees on Dallas and even names her children Bobby and Dallas after the show. She buys fashion clothing until her credit card limit is reached and "the more she bought, the more insatiable she became" (32). Through these kinds of scenes and others, Cruz critiques not only the wealthy who have and keep the money but also the poor who think their lives are worthless without better means.
Angie Cruz is the recipient of the New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship and the Van Leir Literary Award. She is also a founding member of WILL (Women in Literature and Letters). Ms. Cruz lives in New York City.
The following is a transcription of The BookShow which aired in 1995 on WAMC.
Hollis Seamon's Body Work: Stories
In a moving, humorous, and thoughtful short-story collection Body Work: Stories (Spring Harbor Press, 2000), Hollis Seamon features "normal," middle-aged women in a singular, invigorating way. I found it an absolute pleasure to read one character in particular, the fabulous Suzanne LaFleshe, who is like an icon for all curvaceous women. Subsequently, Seamon uses the theme of drowning in many of the stories, as a catalyst for the figurative death and rebirth of several characters. From Alice in "Body Work," to Andrea in "Riverkeeper," drowning is also both literal and symbolic. Beginning with the title story, Seamon helps her characters find a way out of the depths of personal distress and onto the shore of equanimity.
In "Body Work," Seamon showcases a bevy of unusual nuns who you wouldn't expect to be the Lord's employees without the author's classification. At the center of this tough lively bunch (including a tattoo-laden former biker chick), is an exception to the eccentric: Alice. Haunted by her infant's recent death, Alice is engulfed by an anguish that she imagines to congeal into internal stones. During the brief retreat, the heavy stones in her belly and breasts weigh her down to the pits of remorse. She slowly descends into the depths, almost drowning in the final chapter within the nearby lake. It is when Alice is enveloped by the dark liquid that she is able to let go of the stones that embodied her pain. It is Beth, the "miracle worker from Chicago," who saves her from letting go of her life, relieving her of the past and reviving her for the future. Now, Alice can finally breathe the air that her baby barely did for less than a day. Alice's guilt is gone and now her new life can begin.
Seamon continues with the drowning theme in several other short stories. In "Learning to Bleed," a near-drowning marks the end of the narrator's youth and the relationship with her best friend. A sad story about two young girls destined to grow apart, this is a memorable tale that I could relate to. Bev, the elder friend, is pressured by her Grandma Stoller to grow up while the nameless narrator struggles with the steady deterioration of her friendship. Growing up, I faced the same difficulties, and Seamon allows me to bring forth those forgotten emotions easily.
In one of the most visual scenes in the story, the narrator is alone in the deserted pool, her foot stuck in the drain at the bottom. She is about to die while her "best friend" lay outside "growing up" with a bunch of teenaged boys. Almost drowning in the abandoning silence exposes the friendship for what it really is: dead. Finally freeing her foot and swimming to the surface, the girl inhales fresh air and exhales her childhood. Drowning is a rebirth in "Riverkeeper." Andrea, a single middle-aged woman, is at the end of an intense affair with a married man. When she drives through her town, she often sees a mother with her two children, walking with the most apathetic expression on her face. Andrea's curiosity in this craggy-faced woman and her golden children is never answered until she accidentally meets her at the Hudson River. Swimming along the currents, Andrea would have drowned if not for the ethereal, wrinkly hands of a strange woman. Both women go into the water strangers and come out united by it and by the fact that they're both expecting. The drowning here provides Andrea an opportunity to revisit her days as a mother. Where Alice lost her baby and will live on in its place, Andrea discovers one of her own to nurture for the rest of her life. Seamon's poetic style enriches this story with sights and sensations that truly capture the essence of each scene.
Treading on the surface for a bit, Seamon invents an outlandish character in Suzanne LaFleshe. "The Strange Sad History of Suzanne LaFleshe" is about a middle-aged woman who decides to quit her strict diet regimen with Weight Watchers and gain all the fat back. "I like my flesh," she exclaims. "I like the way it moves and bounces." She decides to change her name from a dry Ms. Brown to a creamy Suzanne LaFleshe.
When Ms. Brown revels in her "old familiar flesh gathering about [her] ribs and thighs," my first impression was one of disgust. In a society that anathematizes portly people, Suzanne LaFleshe's table of cream and sugar would be decried as the devil's dish. Going on to say that she succeeds in shedding the fat (something that's nearly impossible for many women), but yearns to gain it all back, is pretty exasperating. Fat is protection, a shelter, and sometimes an unconscious concealment of a person's true self. For Suzanne, however, augmenting the glutinous shell that encompasses her bones is as intentional as her newly-formulated surname, LaFleshe.
She loves her fat--not only her body, her fat. This idea is pretty new. Even though there have been numerous stories of heavyset women who like the way they look, the transition is slow from self-hatred to self-assurance. Among the wide variety that I've experienced, the acceptance of their flaws has made them indubitably more confident and, most importantly, happy. What Seamon does to the normal cliché is go a step further: she creates a woman who relishes what other women severely scorn. In fact, as a "healthy" woman, her happiness is lost and salvaged only when she retreats back to the plentiful diet. LaFleshe has never been ashamed of her extra pounds. She is a refreshing character within the collection's dreary sea of insecurity. Expect to see more of Ms. LaFleshe's unequivocal wit in Seamon's first novel, Flesh.
"After the Women's Writing Retreat in Paradox, NY" is the perfect conclusion to this collection in that it is more like a bunch of notes than a narrative. Done with the insertion of several unfinished ideas that would enhance her work, I felt like I was reading the first draft of this piece from inside the narrator's head. The writer seems to drown in her own ideas, unsure of where she wanted to go with this story and suffocating in a plethora of information. She has to research where the drain water in Albany really goes. She has to make a note to remind her to add a few more lines to make a certain passage more suspenseful. She has to make lists of things that fly (hummers included). All of this note-taking is for a writing class that is supposed to "improve" her writing when she obviously knows how. Then, you have to wonder if this person is Seamon or one of her creations. If the former, then she is being a bit too modest as the dozen or so stories before this one show that she is a full-fledged writer ready to swim to the surface and onto the shore.
Hollis Seamon's work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and praised in "Best American Essays" and "The O. Henry Award: Prize Stories." Readers may find more of her work in "Fiction International," "The Nebraska Review," "Calyx," "13th Moon," "The Hudson Review," and "The Chicago Review." Published anthologies include "The Strange History of Suzanne LaFleshe and Other Stories of Women and Fatness" (The Feminist Press of CUNY, 2003); "Food and Other Enemies" (Essex Press, 2000); "A Line of Cutting Women" (Calyx Books, 1998); and "Sacred Ground: Writings About Home" (Milkweed Editions, 1996). Her first novel "Flesh" (Avocet) was released Fall 2004. Seamon is currently a professor of English at the College of St. Rose.
William Vollmann Introduction
A brief introduction to any writer's work is a poor thing, a blunt tool to crack open something intended to be studied at length. But in the case of William T. Vollmann, the 7-to-10-minute intro is almost ridiculously insufficient.