Archive for October, 2010

October ended with a burst of activity involving multiple projects. Imperfect Armor screened at the 13th annual Indie Memphis film festival on the 23rd along with some wonderful short films like Mitchell Rose’s Advance, Kate Lain’s Git Along, Little Dogies and Amy Adrion’s Shoegazer. (Other festival highlights included Wendy Greene’s short documentary Snake Fever and David Marshall Silverman’s hilarious Pony Rides Are for Girls.)

In addition to screenings and festivities, we took in a bit of the city. The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel provides a powerful reminder of how the color line scarred the United States. In 2009, Indie Memphis screened I Am a Man, a documentary about the sanitation workers’ strike that brought Martin Luther King, Jr., to the city where he was assassinated. This year, it showed Freedom Riders, a film about front-line fighters against racial segregation – the kind of bold Americans the NCRM vividly commemorates.

Of course Memphis’s historical contributions also include some of the greatest music of all time. Though the actual studio where Booker T. & the MGs, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers and many other brilliant musicians made records, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music recreates and celebrates the place where it once stood at the corner of McLemore Avenue and College Street.

In some ways, Memphis reminded me of Detroit, our next stop. And there are some meaningful connections. As the tour guide at Hitsville USA (as the Motown Historical Museum is commonly known) mentioned, King first delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech not in Washington DC but in Detroit, where Berry Gordy’s company made a recording of it. Motown is better known for having recorded artists such as Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, the Supremes and Stevie Wonder. Though Stax Records and Motown used different methods, they both achieved musical magic. Somehow, even though I grew up in Detroit, I’d never visited the building at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, but I corrected that oversight on this trip.

With Craig Fahle at the WDET studio

The real reason for the excursion to my hometown was not to extend our tour of recording studios. (On our 2009 trip to Memphis, we went to Sun Studio.) Instead, it was to read from Fighters & Writers, which I did at the Traffic Jam on the 29th. I also appeared on The Craig Fahle Show on WDET 101.9 FM.

The musical theme was not the only unifier of our two-city trip. Indie Memphis showed two short films about heavyweight Tor Hamer. One of them (Hammer of Tor) ends with the boxer being asked a question by Thomas Hauser, an author I interviewed for the documentary No Neutral Corner and write about in Fighters & Writers.

With my sister, Laura, at a book-signing in Detroit


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While I was on the road, The Oregonian ran my review of Bill Bryson’s At Home.

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A party celebrating the publication of Fighters & Writers will occur in my hometown on Friday, October 29. See the Mongrel Empire Press events page for details.

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The best thing about events like Wordstock, from my perspective anyway, is the opportunity to meet fellow writers. At the Nonfiction Reading Showcase at the Multnomah County Central Library on Wednesday, October 6, I met Wendy Burden, author of Dead End Gene Pool, and Kevin Sampsell, author of A Common Pornography. (Larry Colton also read from No Ordinary Joes that evening, but I didn’t have a chance to speak with him.) I ran into Wendy again at the authors’ reception two days later, where I also chatted with David Biespiel, founder/director of Attic: A Haven for Writers and author of Every Writer Has a Thousand Faces, Bo Caldwell, author of the novels City of Tranquil Light and The Distant Land of My Father, and poet and fiction writer Suzanne Burns.

Reading at Wordstock with Matt Love, Portland, Oregon, October 9, 2010

At the festival itself I also spoke briefly with writers I already knew, such as poet Charles Goodrich and my neighbor, Oregon’s Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen.

The downside of such shows is that it’s impossible to take in everything that entices. In different rooms at the Convention Center on Saturday, Suzanne read from The Widow and Wendy read from her memoir at the same time that I was on stage beside Netsucca Spit Press founder Matt Love, who read from Gimme Refuge before I presented portions of the title essay from Fighters & Writers.

In the Wordstock author signing area with Wendy Burden, October 9, 2010

In an instance of unusually fortuitous timing amid such schedule conflicts, The Oregonian ran a brief review of my book the same weekend as Portland’s big gathering of scribblers.

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In what feels to me like an almost perfect development, something I wrote made the list of Notable Essays of 2009 in The Best American Essays 2010, edited by Christopher Hitchens.

I say “almost” because it would have been better to best rather than notable, but I happily take the honor. The proximity to perfection relates to an earlier post in which I mentioned both Hitchens’s editorship and his writing about his own health. I predicted that the anthology would include what I called “essays of illness.” (It does. Nurse Jane Churchon writes about pronouncing people dead. Ron Rindo describes life with Ménière’s disease.) I also mentioned my own contribution to the genre, the very work declared notable: “Weight Loss: A Love Story,” which first appeared in Blood & Thunder: Musing on the Art of Medicine and is also included in Fighters & Writers.

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