This morning, I finished Kent Haruf’s new novel, Benediction, and it has me thinking about how good literature requires courage on the part of the author while also asking the same from the readers. I say it requires courage because a book worth writing, and one worth reading, asks us to face our lives, and, if we’re truthful, we’ll admit that our lives are made up of small pleasures but also great disappointments and regrets, sadness, and an uncertainty of what lies beyond the here and now. Kent Haruf has the courage to look straight on with depth and humility at all of this in this story of a man dying of cancer and the ties that bind those around him. The book holds small moments of pleasure in what one of the characters calls, “the precious ordinary,” but it’s also an uncompromising look at the end of a life and one that doesn’t pull any punches in its portrayal. It is, simply put, life on the page, and I applaud Kent Haruf for having the courage to tell it to us plain. I’ve read some reviews that grumble about Dad Lewis being a character that it’s hard to root for. To those reviewers, I’d say that Dad Lewis is a flawed human being, as we all are, and, therefore, all the more interesting and memorable.
AWP in Boston
I’m wishing everyone who will be going to the AWP Conference in Boston safe travels. After my little health scare back in the fall, I’m very much looking forward to being with my family of writers. Please say hello, if you happen to spot me. I’ve missed you all. Here are a couple of panels that I’m on in case they might be of interest to you:
Friday, March 8
F199. Turning in Their Graves: Researching, Imagining, and Shaping Our Ancestors’ Stories. (Rebecca McClanahan, Lee Martin, Mary Clearman Blew, Suzanne Berne, Sharon DeBartolo Carmack) Five authors, including a Certified Genealogist, share their varied experiences of writing about family and ancestral roots, offering suggestions for every stage of the journey: accessing archival sources; sifting through facts to discover meaning, theme, and universal truths; deciding if and when to invent or fictionalize; shaping the material into and artful text; and dealing with all the consequences of the published work.
Saturday, March 9
S239. Shadow Show: Writers and Teachers on the Influence of Ray Bradbury and Other Genre-Bending Authors. (Sam Weller, Mort Castle, Alice Hoffman, Lee Martin, John McNally) Four accomplished authors discuss the literary shadow of Ray Bradbury, and the history of blurring genres in literature. The panel includes Bradbury biographer, Sam Weller; seven-time Bram Stoker Finalist, Mort Castle; #1 New York Times Bestseller, Alice Hoffman; Pulitzer nominee, Lee Martin. Each panelist will discuss Bradbury’s influence on their career. They will examine the increasingly porous boundaries between genre and literature.
I’ll also be reading as part of The Journal’s 40th Anniversary Celebration. That will take place on Friday evening at 10pm in Room 2309 of the Sheraton.
The kickoff event, though, will be Wednesday evening, March 6, at 7pm at Brookline Booksmith. 279 Harvard St.; Brookline, MA (617-566-6660). I’ll be joining some other folks with stories in Shadow Show, the Ray Bradbury tribute anthology, mentioned above for a discussion of the collection http://www.brooklinebooksmith.com/events/mainevent.html
The nature guy’s column in my morning paper assures me there are signs of spring: red-winged blackbirds have been spotted, chipmunks have awakened from their winter’s naps, skunk cabbage is up in the woods. I’m hoping these harbingers of spring will coax the warm weather out of hiding. It hasn’t been a particularly hard winter here in Columbus, Ohio, but just cold enough to make me long for the warmth of the sun. Spring training baseball games are underway. The NCAA tournament will start before we know it. Hang in there, everyone. Keep doing the good work. I think we’re going to make it.