Here’s my new interview on The Creative Nonfiction podcast with Brendan O’Meara:
Recently, I’ve been reading as many of the Best American Short Stories anthologies as I can. With 20 stories by 20 different authors in each addition – edited by a different guest editor each year – they’re all excellent. I’m entertained while also learning from the various styles and techniques of these award winning authors.
I’m not reading the collections in any particular order, just reading whatever anthology I find next at my used bookstore or library. That’s how I came across the 1998 edition, guest-edited by Garrison Keiller. It includes incredible stories by Annie Proulx, Carol Anshaw, Akhil Sharma, and others, but it’s the authors’ bio sections that really caught my eye in this edition, because a short story writer named Poe Ballantine wrote the best author bio I’ve ever read.
Since it’s not available online, I’m going to retype his bio for you right here:
“I am forty-two. College dropout. Live in a motel room. I generally move every year, but I am tired of moving and I like this room so I think I will stay another year. I have had lots of odd jobs, mostly cooking. I worked at the radio antenna factory just across the tracks for a while, then sold a couple of stories, so I quit March 5, and if I live on $400 a month and this wisdom tooth coming in doesn’t knock the rest of my teeth sideways, I will be able to write until August.”
I’m writing for The Huffington Post again (after a three year break). Here’s my new piece on censorship:
Patricia Smith wrote a Hurricane Katrina collection that published in 2008. It’s gorgeous, dazzling in its use of sound and metaphor. I wanted to record one of poems but there are too many excellent pieces to choose from. So I went with the opening: “Prologue – And Then She Owns You.”
At an English department book exchange, I received a memoir I’d never heard of, James Thurber’s 1933 memoir My Life And Hard Times. To be honest, it didn’t look good. It was 86 pages long and filled with very mediocre black and white cartoons. Plus, I was judging the book by its cover, and simply because of that godawful cover, I doubted that I’d ever read it.
I got back from snowshoeing last night, got into warm, dry clothes, cracked the book, and read the opening chapter. And not only was that chapter incredibly well-written, but it was funny. Laugh out loud funny. My daughter and I were sitting next to each other on the floor. She was reading her book and I was reading mine, and I kept laughing so hard that she’d make me read passages aloud to her.
But I still thought the book might not be very good. I thought that the first story might be an aberration. There were still those terribly-drawn comics throughout. There was still that really ugly cover. How could a memoir that presents itself so badly be this good?
And it turns out that I was right about the first chapter. That chapter was an aberration. As good as it was, the first chapter was nowhere near as good as most of the chapters in the book. This memoir was a tiny little collection of brilliant and funny essays. The author (Thurber) sneaks up on you. His self-deprecating methods are subtle but successful. It’s almost as if he doesn’t know what he’s doing in his own writing. Yet he does. There’s mastery here. Mastery throughout.
Also, his father is afraid of automobiles.
His senile grandfather lives in the family’s attic and shoots at police officers.
The family escapes a great flood in 1913.
And Thurber’s story about a family dog is so good that I finished it and immediately started re-reading.