Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Two Midwestern Authors to Read
The first two evenings of the Visiting Writers Series at PSU have been fantastic. Last year was first-class, and I think most were poets. So far fiction has been the genre this autumn. First up was Thomas Fox Averill, a Kansas boy. I had read of his short stories over the years, and I had heard respectable comments about his work. I was eager to hear him read and was not disappointed.
Averill was a spell-binding reader and speaker. He was also a humble writer, being frank about the difficulty of getting published these days. (If he has trouble, how can I ever make it?). He was honest to say he had about given up when a university press in New Mexico picked up his novel. This has been new life for his work.
His novel rode is based on the bluegrass song "Tennessee Stud". The song has been recorded by many country artists, and Averill sang it as a lullaby to his kids. While singing it, his mind began to ask questions, create scenarios. So he traveled to all the places the song sings of from Tennessee to Arkansas to Texas to New Mexico. I thought it would be an average western-styled story, but bought it anyway.
It turned out to be a very good story. Averill’s work is strong and fast-moving. The novel has a definite old western type voice. The author creates great descriptive language to hold the reader. For example, early on he describes early day Memphis as a fledging, but one only half feathered. Later he says people swirled on the streets there like water down the end of a funnel. Good images!
In October we went to hear Jo McDougall read from her memoir Daddy’s Money. The author had taught at PSU for about ten years during the 1990’s after growing up on a rice farm in Arkansas. Her work has been largely poetry, some of which I have read. Her poems lines are as sparse as a skeleton, the thoughts rattling like loose bones to haunt you in some cases.
McDougall was an outstanding reader; her pleasant demeanor and frank observations made listeners feel she was talking directly to them and individually. Her memoir recalls days of a WWII era of growing up in rice-growing areas of the Delta land, and it also is candid about the severed relationship that developed with her only sibling after her parents’ death.
I hesitated on buying the book because I still had not read rode from the month before and had many books waiting in my “to read” pile. However, knowing the PSU writers’ programs would benefit, I bought one, and I am mighty glad I did. The read was an exceptionally informative work about rice farming, something I knew nothing about. I enjoyed the era as a time of simpler and slower living. I was also moved by the poignant descriptions of the unraveling relationship she had with her only sister. As so often in families, two people drifted apart to the point of non-resolution over issues that were beyond both of them. While a disturbing part of the memoir, many readers will be able to relate to the angst the author reveals.
Both authors now live in northeastern Kansas, and their books are worth a reader’s time to investigate, despite their titles not being on the NY Times Bestseller List—yet that is!