The Book Is Out

Holidays and Other Disasters was well launched. I enjoyed the reading at Motor City Wine. Print and e-books are now available from Humanist Press.


From the Humanist Press news release:

In a plea for a world where Christmas and other religious holidays are not a seen as default observances to be accepted in a positive light and welcomed by everyone, author John G. Rodwan Jr. takes a journey through history to explore the backgrounds of U.S. holiday rituals in Holidays and Other Disasters, released today by Humanist Press.

As we enter another holiday season, Rodwan’s collection of insights and stories is a timely and needed antidote to claims made by people like Sarah Palin in her recently released Good Tidings and Great Joy, a book where she laments the made up “war on Christmas” and demands universal acceptance of public religious displays. While Rodwan agrees that Christmas is a religious holiday and should be treated that way, fights against the “pervasive, persistent assumption that everyone — unless he or she belongs to another popular confessional group, and perhaps even then — should carry on at least some traditions connected with Christmas makes itself felt toward the end of each year.”

“I chose to decline all invitations to a ghost’s birthday party and to shun Christmas things as much as possible. I have no religious faith, I have no Christmas tree, and I want neither,” Rodwan writes. “And I don’t believe I’ve missed a thing.”

A book-launch party will be held on Thursday, Nov. 21, 6 pm, at Motor City Wine, 1949 Michigan, Ave., Detroit, MI 48216.

Praise for the Holidays and Other Disasters includes the NY Journal of Books, which concludes, “Combining personal experiences with cultural critique, blending historical analysis with a coming-of-age memoir, this collection of chapters reveals a scholar’s eye for nuance and an essayist’s knack for insight.”

Ken Hada, author of Spare Parts and winner of the Western Heritage Award, writes, “Contrarian, snarky, clever, thoughtful, historically justified, John Rodwan’s Holidays and Other Disasters presents the time-tested personal essay in the egalitarian, humanist tradition that underscores the best of American life.”

Holidays and Other Disasters uses an atheist’s perspective to consider all the major U.S. holidays. It examines explicitly religious holidays, those that have a definite if not always acknowledged religious thrust (Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving) and secular holidays that had religious elements added on (like Labor Day) by way of personal stories, usually the author’s own. Where other people have especially revealing holiday stories, as is the case with Jack Johnson (the first black heavyweight champion) and the Fourth of July, novelist Salman Rushdie and Valentine’s Day or labor leader Eugene V. Debs and Labor Day, Rodwan tell theirs.

“… the willingness to do, in some form or another, what others have always done because of foundationless teachings that that is what we’re all supposed to do,” is “what aggravates me about holidays and religion,” Rodwan writes.

Of course, holidays aren’t about religion alone, and Holidays and Other Disasters doesn’t look narrowly at them as pageants of piety. Rather, the book considers the various issues holidays raise, including race and class, and discusses other forms of expressive activity, such as literature, music and sports, along with religion and holiday rituals.

John G. Rodwan, Jr. is the author of the previous essay collection Fighters & Writers (Mongrel Empire Press, 2010). His writing has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines such as The American Interest, Blood and Thunder, Concho River Review, Cream City Review, Critical Moment, Fight News, and several others. He currently lives in Detroit.

The book is available from humanistpress.com and major online retailers.

The book trailer for Holidays and Other Disasters:

I’ve got a few literary events coming up:

October 19: The Motor City Writes, PJ’s Lager House, 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit, 3pm. I’m headlining the all-nonfiction Saturday afternoon reading, which will also feature Xia Gauthier, Grahm Hannah, Paul Hudson Mack, Eric Ruelle and Gary Wagaman. There’s a $5 cover with all proceeds going to a charity of my selection.

November 21: Book-launch party for Holidays & Other Disasters, Motor City Wine, 1949 Michigan Ave., Detroit, 6 pm. Free wine, free parking and cheap copies of my new book, which Humanist Press is publishing the preceding week.

December 7: Good Tyme Writer’s Buffet, Public Pool, 3309 Caniff, Hamtramck, 7pm. A multi-author potluck with Jeff Alfier, Tobi Cogswell, Joy Gaines-Friedler, Steve Hughes, Caroline Maun, Ken Meisel, Michelle Webster-Hein and me.

December 13: Books and Baristas, Always Brewing Detroit, 19180 Grand River Ave., Detroit, 6 pm. An old-school coffee-house reading.


My piece “Nice Things about Detroit” was named a Notable Essay of 2012 in this year’s Best American Essays, edited by Cheryl Strayed and Robert Atwan. The essay first appeared in the May/June 2012 issue of The American Interest.

This is the second time something of mine was so designated. I was previously Notable for an essay that first appeared in Blood & Thunder and was subsequently included in my book Fighters & Writers.


Those in the know have long recognized the rich literary raw material in Jack Johnson’s life story in particular and in boxing generally. Mining this vein, however, risks alienating potential readers ignorant of or averse to the sport. That’s their loss, one might say, accurately enough. It’s a loss, because readers might miss fine, insightful, moving, shocking, revealing, intelligent and stylish writing because of prejudices about the purported subject. If the writing is any good, it shouldn’t matter if the reader previously gave a damn about pugilism or even disliked it thoroughly.

It’s a loss for writers too, who could end up unread because of associations with a marginal or unpopular topic. It could happen to Adrian Matejka, for instance. The drawing of Johnson in trunks and gloves on the cover of The Big Smoke could cause many timorous poetry consumers to look elsewhere. (I suspect something similar happened with my Fighter’s & Writers, which at least some people mistook for a sports book, despite the second half of the title…) By becoming the first black heavyweight champion of the world in the early twentieth century, and by flouting all conventions relating to interracial sexual relationships, Johnson challenged mores in multiple ways and exposed racism in its rawest form. He overcame adversity only to confront more adversity. Heroics and humiliation always intertwined. In his personal life, he could be a brute and a heel. Matejka imaginatively explores these aspects of Johnson’s biography and persona in his brisk poems. One can and should appreciate them regardless of his or her attitude toward boxing.

Big Smoke

Anca Vlasopolos is author of The New Bedford Samurai, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and No Return Address: A Memoir of Displacement, which won the YMCA Writer’s Voice Grant for Creative Non-Fiction, and several other books. I’ve had the privilege of reading at a couple of events with her. Here’s what she had to say about my next book, which Humanist Press is publishing in the fall:

“In Holidays and Other Disasters, Rodwan dissects, with wit and verve, the human predilection for faith in a deity. Meditating on the religious rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr. or on Salman Rushdie’s personal recuperation of Valentine’s Day, Rodwan faces his own disaffection with religion as well as with compulsory societal celebrations. Believers and non-believers alike will be entertained and enlightened by Rodwan’s engaging prose and probing intellect.”

Joey Brown, professor of English at Missouri Southern State University and author of the poetry collection Oklahomaography, said this about my upcoming book:

“I’ve just finished reading Holidays and Other Disasters, the new essay collection by John G. Rodwan, Jr. At times funny, at others seriously contemplative, this collection prompts us to reflect on why we celebrate what we celebrate—even if we would celebrate were we to know all there is to know of the histories of American holidays. Rodwan smartly ties together the many ways rituals pervade our lives, be it through our listening to gospel music, trimming Christmas trees, marking Opening Day of baseball season, or his own father’s homage to Halloween. Like me, you probably know at least a few people who would be offended by this book; thus I can think of no better recommendation for reading it.”

I love that last sentence!

Here’s what Suzanne Burns, author of Misfits and Other Heroes and Ghost Wife, among other fine works, had to say about my next book:

Holidays and Other Disasters by John G. Rodwan Jr. forces me to question whether or not I have lived an authentic life or if I have been pretending: to decorate each year’s Christmas tree with gusto, to celebrate every holiday without ever asking what we are collectively celebrating, to attend midnight mass and wait for that epiphany that never quite seems to come. Written in a genre bending style that blends the tightness of journalistic prose with a touch of pleasantly elegiac reminiscing, I recommend this book for people who not only think they have all the answers but for those, like me, who never even knew the right questions to ask.”

The cover for my next book, set to publish this fall:
Book Jacket_FINAL

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