Saturday, October 21, 2006

Alison Clement

Featured on June 15, 2002 and October 21, 2006

I think it's safe to say that there's nothing more American than the coming-of-age novel. We're a youth-oriented bunch. Culturally, the rest of the world seems to strive for middle-age maturity, but we keep on being the Pepsi generation no matter how gray we get, at least in our heads. Apparently there's something incomprehensibly alluring about the pain and confusion of being young, falling in love and making mistakes, long after we've actually gone on to become happily jaded and cynical.

So we have a tradition of coming-of-age novels. Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn, J.D. Salinger and Catcher in the Rye, Larry McMurtry in Horseman Pass By and The Last Picture Show. Some of you may remember Blake Nelson, who appeared here last September, author of Girl, which attained cult status among American teens for both the book and the film.

We have a writer here tonight who carries on that tradition to a new level. By dint of talent, an unerring ear, dedication to craft and unrelenting hard work, Alison Clement has found a strong and unique narrative voice to tell a simple, unembellished story about a self-absorbed young woman coming of age. Because of that incredible voice, I think Pretty is as Pretty Does will be around for a long time. A fable of the late Fifties or early Sixties, without reference to historical events, it is truly Middle Americana, but with a twist. Because you see, that's really the ghost of Moll Flanders sitting at the counter a few seats down from you at Aunt Babe's Cafe, sipping a strawberry coke on the hottest day of the summer, flipping her hair and watching every move you make, never knowing that her life is about to begin.

Alison Clement's second published novel, Twenty Questions, was the 2007 Oregon Book Award winner in fiction. The title of Twenty Questions comes from the familiar children's guessing game. The novel is about a grade-school cook who avoids being murdered through chance and becomes involved in the lives of the children at her school.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Lawson Fusao Inada

Lawson Inada is a professor of writing at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. His most recent books of poetry are Legends From Camp and Drawing The Line. He is also the editor of a new collection of writing Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience.

Lawson is a Sansei (a U.S.-born grandchild of Japanese immigrants to America). He was born in Fresno, California in 1938. His paternal grandparents were sharecroppers but Inada’s father became a dentist. Inada’s maternal grandfather started the Fresno Fish Store. In May 1942, his family joined over a hundred thousand other Japanese-Americans in camps where they were confined for the duration of World War II. He was first incarcerated at the Fresno County Fairgrounds, then moved to a Concentration Camp in Arkansas and finally interred at a camp in Colorado. After the war, Lawson joined the Black and Chicano set, played bass and followed the jazz of Miles Davis, Coltrane, and Billy Holiday. When he returned to Fresno State he began his studies with Phil Levine who introduced him to writing.

Lawson was the first Asian-American to publish a collection of poems with a major New York publishing house -- Before the War published by William Morrow. He has read his works at the White House and been hailed as "a poet-musician in the tradition of Walt Whitman." He won the Oregon Governor’s Arts Award in 1997 and received two National Endowment of the Arts Poetry Fellowships and is considered by many to be the father of Asian-American literature.

His work has been the subject of a documentary, What It Means to Be Free: A Video about Poetry and Japanese-American Internment, and an award-winning animated film, Legends from Camp made in collaboration with his son, artist Miles Inada.

Lawson Fusao Inada was named Oregon's Poet Laureate in 2006.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Paulann Peterson

Paulann Petersen’s work has appeared in Poetry, The New Republic, Prairie Schooner, Willow Springs, Calyx, and the Internet’s Poetry Daily.

A collection of her poems, The Wild Awake, was published by Confluence Press in 2002; Quiet Lion Press published Blood-Silk, a volume of her poems about Turkey, in 2004; and a third collection, A Bride of Narrow Escape, has been released from Cloudbank Books. A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, she serves on the board of Friends of William Stafford.

Paulann Peterson was awarded Literary Arts' Stewart H. Holbrook Award, recognizing her "significant contributions that have enriched Oregon's literary community" ­ namely organizing the William Stafford Birthday Readings all over Oregon and the U.S. Her recent book of poetry A Bride of Narrow Escape was nominated for an Oregon Book Award.

David Lee

In the beginning, there were no writers, because there was no written language. But there were poets and poetry, which began with a simple, purposeful objective: to record local history and pass it on orally in such a memorable, entertaining way that future generations could hear and learn from past tragic and foolish events so that they might have some advance warning about committing similar miserable mistakes during their own lives. From that ancient, oral, poetic tradition evolved the thoughts and judgments that have resulted in all religion, philosophy, education and government.

This great narrative tradition lives on in the work of our first guest, author of twelve books and winner of the 1995 Western States Book Award, the Plains States Booksellers Award of 1996, and a Critics Choice Award. He has worn many hats on his journey to being named one of Utah's top twelve writers by the Utah Endowment for the Humanities and the Utah Governor's Award for lifetime achievement in the arts, including those of decorated soldier, boxer, semi-pro ball-player, hog farmer, professor of literature and seminarian.

But he didn't become the head of the language and literature department at Southern Utah University or the celebrated poet that he is by churning out the elitist, obfuscated and unmemorable drivel that often passes for poetry these days, which has largely served to drive modern readers away from honest poetry.

In an interview, he comments upon his narrative impulse: I'm really out of love, disenfranchised with the modern lyric poem or the 'language poem' that has no spine or character to it. Such poems are simply lumps of words that may or may not even connect. I want to get back to the original traditions of what poetry and art are—storytelling. I love stories, but I'm not a good storyteller. I have to think about it, brood, steal, lie, to create a story. As for sitting around the campfire, I'm the quietest person there. That's why I chose writing as my outlet."

The only line from that quote I'd have to dismiss outright is the one about our guest not being a good storyteller. But judge for yourself.

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photo by Carla Perry

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Gina Ochsner

Have you ever been somewhere, a room in your house perhaps, some normally non-spooky locale where you suddenly feel an invisible presence, as if someone or something was treating you to a supernatural visit? Perhaps you thought it was from watching too many episodes of Crossing Over, or overload from that afternoon with the flu you spent watching old reruns of Dark Shadows. But hey, maybe it's simply a friend or enemy or family member or former resident recently passed on who's back for a little visit. Perhaps they return to resolve a few old issues, or from reluctance to take up permanent quarters in the great hereafter, or curiosity, or regret, or a simple unwillingness to leave the realm of the living.

Gina Ochsner writes about the dead. In beautifully wrought prose she suggests that if the dead themselves may be reluctant to leave this incarnation of unfinished business, it may be in part because the living are also unwilling to let them go. She also implies that perhaps these clumsy shades are reflections of us all as we move through the more mundane moments of our lives, unconscious and oblivious to the exciting possibilities of existence.

Eleven metaphorical tales of troubled spirits haunt the pages of The Necessary Grace to Fall, a collection that won the 2002 Oregon Book Award for Fiction and the Flannery O'Connor Award for short fiction and publication in 2002 by the University of Georgia Press.

Gina is a graduate of George Fox University where she teaches part-time. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review and Nimrod, among others. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Raymond Carver Award from Humboldt State, and the Katherine Ann Porter Award.

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Photo by Carla Perry

Andres Berger-Kiss

Featured on September 19, 1997, September 18, 1999 and January 21, 2006

Andrés Berger-Kiss was born in Hungary to a man and woman who were both actors. He spent his early childhood in Holland but was raised and educated in Colombia, South America where his family fled to escape the methodical extermination of Jews. He moved to New York for undergraduate studies, earned his Masters in psychology from Indiana, then was awarded a doctorate in psychology at the University of Missouri. From there, he worked as a clinical psychologist, including two years at the Menninger Clinic, and taught psychology at the university level. Andres became chief psychologist and director of Mental Health Education for the state of Oregon but a fifteen years ago he decided to devote himself full-time to his writing.

Andrés Berger-Kiss has written over thirty publications and is the author of Children of the Dawn, published by ECOE Ediciones in Bogata, Columbia. His stories, "The Beggars, Treasure Hunters" and "Letters to my Lover" appeared in the United States. His novel, Don Alejandro, written in Spanish, was published in 1996. His most recent book is the bilingual collection of poems called Voices from the Earth.

He is co-author of the 1994 film script for "The Sharpener" based on his prize-winning short story. Other stories have been published in Best Latino Short Stories of the Decade published by the University of Houston, and Best International Short Stories, published by Europa Press in Budapest. Planeta Editors in Colombia will soon publish the Spanish version of Tomorrow’s Promise.

Photo by Carla Perry