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Now there’s this:


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When it comes to names, my inclination is to call people what they prefer to be called. I like to think that if I had been around at the time, I would have started using “Muhammad Ali” and stopped saying “Cassius Clay” when the boxer himself made the change.

This practice should extend to presenting people’s names in print as they choose write them.

As someone with a suffix attached to his name, I’ve noticed that this courtesy is often not extended to me. In my case, this is only a minor grievance. I prefer to present my name as: John G. Rodwan, Jr. Some style guides (and social media like Facebook) instead cause it to be rendered this way: John G. Rodwan Jr.

What bothers me more than editors dropping the comma between my surname and “Jr.” – something only noticeable in print – is their retention of it but the failure to use the second comma that first one requires. According to the 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (6.49): “Commas are no longer required around Jr. and Sr. If commas are used, however, they must appear both before and after the element.” A lot of people don’t seem to understand this. I’ve noticed this in contributor biographies. I’ll submit one that begins, “John G. Rodwan, Jr., is the author of…” Later on I’ll see it in the back of a journal this way: John G. Rodwan, Jr. is the author of…” This drives me nuts. Sometimes I’ll write my bio so that no proofreader will be tempted to remove that second comma. (John G. Rodwan, Jr., author of…) But this can be awkward, and it doesn’t keep some editors from excising the first comma.

The commas may not be absolutely necessary (unless that first one is used), as the Chicago guide says, but if a person chooses to use them, that choice should be respected, I think. Curiously, authors who prefer the arguably “wrong” use of lower case letters at the start of each word or initial in their names are likely to have this unconventional presentation preserved, while my not incorrect preference for commas is frequently disregarded.

This all may seem fairly trivial and esoteric. Perhaps it is. But names are bound up with identity – very explicitly in cases like mine. That Jr. both links me to my father and differentiates me from him. I could easily dispense with it all together, since my father has always gone by our middle name and therefore writes his name differently than I do.

The fact that I could drop it explains why I use that comma: to me it indicates that the suffix is not an intrinsic or necessarily permanent part of my name. Kurt Vonnegut’s early books’ covers all have his name with a Jr. at the end (separated by a comma). For years after Kurt Vonnegut, Sr., died, the novelist “kept ‘Jr.’ as part of his surname, in deference to his father,” writes his biographer Charles J. Shields. Eventually, though, Vonnegut did opt to be simply “Kurt Vonnegut,” as his name appears on his later books.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever stop using the Jr. (and the comma), but it’s my decision to make.


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For several reasons, I might have been predisposed to like Bernie Hafeli’s Bear Season: about a third of it takes place in my hometown, Detroit, and the author refers to boxers and jazz musicians, athletes and artists about whom I too have written. Ultimately, however, those factors have nothing to do with why I enjoyed the novel, the story of a fatherless boy, a drunken uncle and a soldier bear.

Now I know that “soldier bear” might cause eyebrows to rise. One blurb on the back cover invokes John Irving – not one of my favorite writers. And yes, there really is a friendly goofball of a bear in the book. But if in plotting such a narrative Hafeli risked descending into sap or silliness, it’s a testament to his abilities that he doesn’t.

The book spoke to me not because of cameos by fighters or musicians or the local connection (or because Hafeli is the cousin of a friend of mine or the book was published by an outfit in Portland, OR, another city where I’ve lived) but rather because it’s a skillfully crafted depiction of a boy at the very beginning of the journey to adulthood. Czeslaw Wierzbicki realizes adults aren’t always reliable and often know less than they pretend to know. A valuable lesson, and Hafeli shows a boy learning it in his wise, witty and quirky novel.

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Midwestern Gothic, which published a poem of mine in its winter 2013 issue, also ran an interview with me on its website. It can be read here: http://midwestgothic.com/2013/01/contributor-spotlight-john-g-rodwan-jr/

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Quietude here shouldn’t be taken as inactivity on the writing front. The latest issue of Meat for Tea: The Valley Review (Vol. 6, Issue 4) carries an essay of mine titled “Top Ten.” I also have a poem in the current Midwestern Gothic (Issue 8). In addition, writing of mine is forthcoming soon in The Avalon Literary Review, African American Review, Cream City Review, Concho River Review and Logos: A Journal of Modern Society & Culture.

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Appropriately, I think, given the book’s dual subject, I write about the great boxing trainer Emanuel Steward in Fighters & Writers in connection with another author’s work. In the essay “A First-Class Sport” (which takes its name from a comment made by Teddy Roosevelt), I consider how Steward and others used boxing as a way to help youngsters:

This desire to aid children’s development through boxing is common among both trainers and cops. In his memoir, Serenity, Ralph Wiley recalls his early days as a sportswriter on the boxing beat and visits he paid to the New Oakland Boxing Club, where he met a police officer representing the PAL who worked with young fighters. “Boxing breeds respect,” Jerry Blueford told Wiley. “I don’t care if any of these kids ever become pros, or even good amateurs for that matter. I’m trying to get them into something they can work at. Off the streets. If they leave here in a couple of years and rob a bank, at least they didn’t rob it while they were here.” In a section that harkens back to Roosevelt’s remark about tough neighborhoods, Wiley describes visiting Detroit’s Kronk Boxing Club, in “the bottom of the rundown bunker of a recreation center on an otherwise barren lot of the decayed inner city.” Wiley calls the place “a haven of sorts for the children of Detroit” and he cannot help being impressed by its principal, trainer-manager Emanuel Steward, because of “how Emanuel had overcome long odds, and helped his young men overcome long odds, just to be strong and functional.”

Wiley refers to the original Kronk location on McGraw, where Steward taught Tommy Hearns, Hilmer Kenty, Jimmy Paul, Duane Thomas, Dennis Andries, Steve McCrory, Milton McCrory, Michael Moorer, and so many others, not the later location on West Warren, which according to reports started being dismantled almost immediately after Steward’s death on October 25.

Detroit still needs the kinds of havens Steward provided.


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Writing about the second staged exchange between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley exclaims: “This is what a debate should look like — two well-matched heavyweights pounding away at each other, unable to knock each other down, but determined to keep slugging.” He then proceeds, rather lamely, to say, “In the end, who won probably depended on who you wanted to win going in.” (No need to read more of his analysis to know for whom he was rooting…)

Slate’s sampling of newspapers’ coverage of the event features headlines like “No Pulling Punches in Feisty Debate” (Las Vegas Review-Journal), “They Came out Fighting” (New Hampshire Union Leader) and “Obama, Romney Come out Swinging” (Richmond Times-Dispatch).

In his New Yorker blog, John Cassidy manages to liken Obama to both Jake LaMotta and Muhammad Ali before saying, “Enough with the boxing metaphors.” He doesn’t mean it, however. “Truly, though, it’s hard to avoid them,” he continues.

The problem is precisely how easy it is to rely on such clichés. Rather than actually saying something insightful, pundits just reach for the most obvious comparison from sports. Presidential debates are contests between two opponents, and so are boxing matches. Really? You don’t say…

Perhaps it would be worth trying a little harder.

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Thinking about the season’s presidential and vice-presidential debates, I find myself consistently returning to a line from George Orwell’s Diaries. In 1936, while gathering material for what would become The Road to Wigan Pier, he went to see a politician speak and wrote afterward: “it struck me how easy it is to bamboozle an uneducated audience if you have prepared a set of repartees with which to evade awkward questions…” With both awkward and not-so-awkward questions, candidates simply say what they planned to say, and some listeners actually do, somehow, believe what they hear…

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Suzanne Burns, a fine Oregon writer, has a new collection of poetry coming out soon. Her publisher, Night Bomb Press, is offering free shipping on orders of Ghost Wife placed before November 7. Here’s where to go for the deal: http://www.nightbombpress.com/preorders.html.

I met Suzanne a few years ago at the Wordstock book festival, at which we both reading (simultaneously). Having since read her earlier work, I’m now eagerly looking forward to the new one.

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A few things that caught my eye:

  • Having never read any books by Bret Easton Ellis, I can’t say whether David Foster Wallace’s criticisms of the author of American Psycho (as relayed by Slate) have any merit; however, having slogged through a couple Wallace tomes, and having observed the witlessly earnest ardor of DFW fans, I tend to side with Ellis, who dismisses Wallace as a “fraud” and finds the “halo of sentimentality surrounding him embarrassing.”
  • The New Yorker’s books blog, Page-Turner, has a fascinating item in which Philip Roth corrects mistaken allegations concerning the origins of The Human Stain (a novel I write about in Fighters & Writers).
  • Volume VIII of The Chaffey Review, containing three poems of mine is out, as is the fall issue of San Pedro River Review, featuring a poem by my wife, Nancy (who also has work forthcoming in GreenPrints).
  • The fall issue of The Paris Review includes an interview with James Fenton (whose A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed I recently read). The brief excerpt posted has me looking forward to reading the whole thing.
  • Also looking forward to Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth. McEwan’s Canadian publisher provides some of the novel’s historical background.
  • Despite negative assessments of the movies like Tom Carson’s in The American Prospect, I am undeterred in my curiosity to watch the just-released-on-DVD films of Norman Mailer.

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