Once or twice before on this site, I’ve recorded what struck me as curious, almost uncanny coincidences. While I assign no special meaning to such occurrences and discern nothing supernatural in them, I do find them intriguing. A couple more happened in connection with book festivals.
The first thing my wife and I did when we reached Little Rock was drive to Central High School, site of the Little Rock Nine’s brave challenge to racially segregated schooling in 1957. In the visitor center at the National Historic Site, we started talking with a Park Service employee who not only was planning to attend the poetry slam organized as part of the opening night of the Arkansas Literary Festival but who was also slated to moderate a conversation a couple of days later. (We did see Spirit Trickey during the Spoken Word Live! competition at the Mosaic Templers Cultural Center, but weren’t able to attend her talk with Jay Jennings about his book Carry the Rock.)
Often, it seems, Norman Mailer factors in these synchronous episodes. (Coincidences fascinated the novelist, even if he didn’t actually like them. “If psychic coincidences give pleasure to some, I do not know if they give them [sic] to me,” he writes in Cannibals and Christians, while the narrator of his Tough Guys Don’t Dance reminds himself that “not all coincidence was diabolical or divine.”) A week before we met Spirit in Arkansas, we met Paul Austin in Oklahoma. At the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival authors’ reception at the Oak Hills Country Club, Austin told me about time he spent with Mailer and José Torres, both of whom figure prominently in Fighters & Writers, including one of the passages I’d planned to read during the festival. (Austin worked on Mailer’s movie Maidstone.)
When she learned of our intention to drive from Ada to Little Rock, Austin’s wife, novelist Rilla Askew, wrote out directions to various sites that factor in True Grit, whose author, Charles Portis, turned out to be the subject of a panel discussion we did attend at the Arkansas Literary Festival (one led by Jay Jennings, in fact). The route we ultimately took involved a stop in a town with another cinematic connection, McAlester, the location of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, which we drove past and which a few years earlier staged the contests chronicled in the documentary Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, which we’d seen at the Indie Memphis film festival.