Collection Reviews Coming Soon: Thrift Store Coats by Brooks Rexroat (Orson's Publishing) and Five Hundred Poor by Noah Milligan (Central Ave Pub)
Roads Home: A Review of Ted Geltner’s Blood, Bone, and Marrow: a Harry Crews Biography
By Adam Van Winkle, Cowboy Jamboree editor
My favorite part of Ted Geltner’s Harry Crews biography, out today (5/15/2017) in paperback, is the end. There, Geltner intimately recalls his last meeting with Crews, detailing Crews’ wish to have he and Geltner, a welcomed biographer by Crews, drive the old rural roads back home to Bacon County Georgia.
It’s my favorite part because that’s what my Crews reading experience has been. I’m not from Bacon County but I am from rural parts with plenty of strange cats. As has been the case with a few grit lit authors, finding Crews’ catalog was like reading my way back home.
As Geltner paints it in Blood, Bone, and Marrow, his biography began as an interview assignment before Crews’ drastic health decline and death in 2012 that others ducked. They didn’t want to mess with Crews. Geltner took the assignment and found a much bigger project worth writing and well overdue: an intimate biography with one of America’s greatest living writers, at the time. Five years after Crews’ passing the biography keeps the author very much alive, and it’s fitting the paperback releases on the heels of that five year mark.
The biography pulls you in as a willing reader because Geltner hooks you with Crews’ own enthusiasm for the project and the urgency at hand: “Ask me anything you want, bud,” Crews eagerly quips to Geltner in the beginning, “But you'd better do it quick.” Geltner keeps this intimacy between biographer, Crews, and the reader throughout the book.
Rather than paint an encyclopedic and dry third person historical biography, Geltner takes the reader on his writing journey, beginning to end, and the arc of his relationship with Crews as the biography comes to fruition. In this way, I suspect, the reader gets much more the kind of biography Crews would want: naked and intimate, bare and unpretentious.
I like that Geltner is honest with writing against Death in the book. I like that Crews is honest with that too. I like that Geltner puts Crews on his deathbed and in struggled conversation for the reader. Those are the kind of characters Crews would write.
That I think is Geltner’s most magnificent achievement here.
These moments too feed the credibility of the rest of the biography. I feel like I’m getting the real Crews story because he’s right there, the whole time, writing it with Geltner.
If you’re into Crews’ fiction or nonfiction or just interested in seminal grit lit, Blood, Bone, and Marrow is worth getting and reading and having.
CJ Review: "Waterpipes, Mufflers, and Cafeteria Trays: Kristie Betts Letter’s awesome book of prose poems Under-Worldy"
“Underworldly poetry” strikes a gong for the Classics and that is certainly here in Kristie Betts Letter’s fantastic new book of prose poetry vignettes, Under-Worldy, when Eurydice voices the last work in the collection. Betts Letter’s fantastic turn here though is that the underworld she is most concerned with is your real world. The collection in its entirety turns fantastic images of the subterranean grit of our reality: waterpipes and car mufflers and cafeteria trays and blood.
What grinds gears alongside the gritty underbelly imagery in the collection is an anxious voice. In “Muffler” regrets and sexual anxieties of the driver thud along with the driver’s jalopy. It’s underside, the floorboard and muffler and engine under the hood feel as grimy and busted as the driver.
When the poet writes of Johnny Cash’s famous forest fire in “Johnny Cash/Yellowbirds” she focuses on the cause: the undercarriage, the burning wheel barring that started the fire to begin with. Because that’s what this volume is: the very bare, grimy, grinding, burning things underneath that drive our world here on the surface. So, of course we love it.
A Rembrandt painting may look glossy, photographic, well-defined across its surface, but take it to its subterranean microscopic and you’ll find colors flung and splattered and broken at their edges. That’s what artists like Pollock and Rothko were showing us. Betts Letter paints a similar stroke here with her pen. She exposes the undersides and cogs in all their gritty glory, what grinds to create something like a coherent image of reality.
Order this new collection from l’Aleph.
ALL WE NEED OF HELL: A HARRY CREWS TRIBUTE
Fall issue sneak preview:
"Underneath All the Sham: Dinty W. Moore on his 1992 Harry Crews Interview" (full interview fall 2017):
AV: 1992-Scar Lover is being marketed as a "classic Southern" story, Crews discusses his autobiography in your interview, as well as the merits of being a "southern novelist." What was Crews' view of himself in the "Southern novelist" tradition as far as you know?
DM: He deeply respected those writers before him who had been tagged “southern,” but he wasn’t at all happy with the limits of the label. “I don't think any novelist worth his salt wants an adjective in the front of the word novelist,” he told me, pointing out that no one calls Updike a “Northern novelist.” He didn’t seem angry about it, of course. He just seemed to find it all – the notoriety, the criticism, the reviews, the pigeonholing -- a bit ridiculous.
Dinty W. Moore is an American essayist and writer of both fiction and non-fiction books. He received the Grub Street National Book Prize for Non-Fiction for his memoir, Between Panic and Desire, in 2008. Moore's essays and stories have appeared in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Harper's Magazine, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Arts & Letters, The Gettysburg Review, Utne Reader, and Crazyhorse. He also edits Brevity, an online journal of creative nonfiction, and he is on the editorial board of Creative Nonfiction magazine. He is currently Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Ohio University.
"The Grit in Himself: A Conversation with Tom Graves about Harry Crews" (forthcoming Fall 2017):
AV: How aware was Crews, if you know, of himself as a kind of forefather to Grit Lit? Did he see himself simply in a Southern Grotesque tradition (like a Flannery O'Connor), or did he view himself and others as creating something innovative with hardscrabble characters and language and setting?
TG: He absolutely had a sense of himself that he had staked out something new and original in the literary world, that no one else was like him...Harry often talked about how he couldn’t write anything worthwhile until he recognized the grit in himself. I always felt that what was at the root of Harry’s existential dilemma was the fact he was from the rickets belt, as he said, but also and just as important that he was an intellectual too, a profoundly deep thinker, and this too served to ostracize him from those he grew up with. He was always made to feel he was an outsider from both worlds.
Tom Graves is the award-winning author of Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson, the Blues Foundation's choice for book of the year in 2010. Graves' first book was the "grit-lit" critic's favorite, Pullers, which was praised by the legendary Harry Crews, crime writer Robert Campbell, Charles Gaines, and critic Dave Marsh. Compared favorably to the gonzo style of Hunter S. Thompson, Pullersis a novel about the high-octane, high-testosterone world of professional arm-wrestling. He is the former editor of Rock & Roll Disc magazine and has written for numerous national publications including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The Washington Post, American History magazine, The Oxford American, Musician, The New Leader, and others. He is a professor of English at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Tennessee.
Rural Writer Interview Series:
By Adam Van Winkle, CJ Editor
The Oklahoma Writing Hall of Famer, New York Times Bestseller, and Oklahoma Poet Laureate Candidate on the Oklahoma writing scene, his candidacy for Laureate, and his upcoming book, Challengers of the Dust.
AV: Congratulations on your candidacy for Oklahoma Poet Laureate. How did this come about?
WB: I was nominated by World Literature Today, which obviously was an enormous compliment. I have been absolutely floored by the reception my poetry has received. I didn't publish poetry for many years, primarily because I was afraid no one would take it seriously, given my reputation as a novelist. As it turns out, the poetry has earned some of the best reviews of my career.
AV: You’re a New York Times bestselling author. Independent bookstores and literary festivals have a solid foothold in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Several colleges in the state boast capable creative writing programs. This Land Press and Red Dirt Press are Oklahoma-based. At Cowboy Jamboree we've read many great submissions by Oklahoma writers. How do you view the Oklahoma literary scene now and its impact on the national literary scene?
WB: I think the Oklahoma literary scene is far-reaching and well-respected anywhere you go. We have an enormous amount of talent in this state, far beyond our per capita share. I'm happy to support our homegrown programs whenever possible. The publishing playing field has leveled with the advent of online sales and digital publishing. It's no longer necessary to run to New York every time you want to publish a book.
AV: Ben Kincaid is an Okie that finds himself at work and traveling all over the country. You've stayed in Oklahoma despite teaching, speaking, and reading all over the country. How much of you is in Ben Kincaid?
WB: Probably more than I would care to admit. I wanted to create a lawyer-hero who was still a human being, with flaws and foibles like human beings, rather than some infallible thinking machine. I think it's Ben's humanity, and his genuine concern for his clients, that attract readers.
AV: Your prose has found a home with Ballantine Books and been on the New York Times bestselling list. What about Red Dirt Press attracted you for your newest poetry collection, Ocean's Edge?
WB: The Publisher at Red Dirt, Amy Wilson, contacted me not long after my first poetry book, The White Bird, was published and asked if I would like to do another poetry book with her. I didn't feel I was ready then, but about two years later I was, so I called her. There are not that many outlets for poetry these days, so when someone is kind enough to reach out to me, that's something I tend to remember.
AV: Tell us about Challengers of the Dust (just out with This Land Press). This looks like it's real red dirt country reading and right up our alley at CJ.
WB: Challengers of the Dust is a historical novel set in 1935, Dust Bowl Oklahoma. Two young men are thrown together under the worst of circumstances and forced to accept a near-impossible mission the puts them in contact with the situations and people of the era, including some famous faces you might recognize. The title came because one of the main characters is very involved with the pulp magazines of the time, which ultimately have been so influential on modern-day popular culture.
More on Bernhardt’s The Ocean’s Edge (from Red Dirt Press): William Bernhardt's second poetry collection explores the complex tapestry of family and the subtle interconnections that bind us to our past and forms the ballast to identity. Popular culture merges with classical allusions, weaving the colorful threads of a fabric composed of moments lived and still to be lived.
"William Bernhardt is one of Oklahoma's and the country's literary treasures. Part William Carlos Williams (the big picture of our national lives) and e.e. cummings (poetry's micro-moments), this new book will bring converts to poetry and to Bill's yeasty vision.This is poetry for those who love reading and want a reminder of why they should read more poetry. They will not be disappointed."--Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Executive Director of World Literature Today.
More on Bernhardt’s Challengers of the Dust (from This Land Press): George Earle returns from college to his Oklahoma birthplace and finds it drastically altered. The Dust Bowl and the Depression have transformed the bucolic farmtown into a desolate wasteland where few are healthy, happy, or employed. A chance encounter with Pretty Boy Floyd lands him in jail with a melancholy pulp-literary agent named Hart. They’re given one chance to avoid execution by accepting an unlikely task: find local powerbroker Doc Bennett’s wayward daughter. They head east meeting migrants, vagabonds, rail-riders, rainmakers, a few destined to become famous, a few too dangerous to live, and the most ghoulish acts of a starved population, while attempting to fulfill their impossible mission.
Praise for Challengers of the Dust: “Wow! That was all I could say when I finished devouring William Bernhardt’s Challengers of the Dust. Readers beware, hold on tight for this roller-coaster ride that starts and ends in Oklahoma’s No Man’s Land of the Dust Bowl 1930s. Along the way you will meet con artists, maniacs, daredevils, cannibals, and an array of so many famous and infamous personalities that Forrest Gump’s celebrity encounters pale in comparison. Mr. Bernhardt, you have done it again. Don’t quit now. More please.” —Michael Wallis, Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd
Red Dirt Press
by Adam Van Winkle (CJ Editor)
Aspiration is a funny thing, especially in the writing world. One may feel very accomplished at writing. To write something, even to write it well, is one thing. Publishing, reading, and working the craft of authordom is a whole ‘nother.
Steven L. Parker, 76-year-old tribal judge and practicing attorney in Tecumseh, Oklahoma, is on the novel circuit for the first time in his life, reading what was once a manuscript that sat unread for years in his desk drawer in his office. Now, BS, his Dixie-noir crime novel from Red Dirt Press (Summer 2015), is a huge hit on the crime book circuit and in far-flung bookstores and western and crime reading groups. Now the judge finds himself signing autographs and reading at bookstores across the country, the special invited guest of Wyoming book clubs, and even reads to fans at senior citizen centers.
His book is a stunner: It is a hot, sultry summer in Little Dixie, Oklahoma in the 1970's. A young man commits a robbery that forever changes the course of his life and those around him. Rural poverty and injustices assert themselves as the norm not the exception; by the end of the novel the reader will feel that he or she lives in Crow, Oklahoma, the setting of this debut novel. An exciting read by an author who knows the interior terrain of the human heart, the traditions of a unique rural heartland, and most importantly, how to convincingly portray the universal human condition.
Part of the mission of Amy Susan Wilson at Red Dirt Press in Shawnee, Oklahoma is to discover the manuscripts sitting in drawers and locked away that folks need to be reading. She is looking for new and emerging voices writing from and about Red Dirt country and similar rural places. RDP boasts significant publications with well-known authors as well. New York Times Bestseller, Oklahoma Writing Hall of Famer, and Oklahoma Poet Laureate candidate William Bernhardt released his latest volume of poetry with RDP entitled The Ocean’s Edge (Summer 2016). JuliaNunnally Duncan’s essays have appeared in journals including Evening Street Review, drafthorse literary journal, Prime Number Magazine, and others. Her poems have also appeared in scores of journals, including North Carolina Literary Review, Carolina Woman Magazine, Western North Carolina Woman, and Heyday Magazine. To date, she has published three poetry collections, two novels, two short story collections and one essay collection. Her next poetry collection will come out under Red Dirt Press (2017).
“Publishing is the Wild West right now,” Wilson says of the industry. With a Columbia MFA and years of work at Simon & Schuster, Wilson speaks from experience. So why did she venture in with her own press? Simple: “We were getting so much good stuff for Red Truck Review, we had to do a press.” Red Truck Review has since become Red Dirt Forum for relaunch under the RDP brand.
I asked William Bernhardt then, if publishing really is the Wild West, what factored into his submitting the latest volume of poetry to Red Dirt. His response focused on the talent behind the Press: “The Publisher at Red Dirt, Amy Wilson, contacted me not long after my first poetry book, The White Bird, was published and asked if I would like to do another poetry book with her. I didn't feel I was ready then, but about two years later I was, so I called her. There are not that many outlets for poetry these days, so when someone is kind enough to reach out to me, that's something I tend to remember.”
So RDP’s editor is out there recruiting? “Absolutely,” Wilson says, and lists Midwestern Gothic and The Southern Literary Review and World Literature Today and Steel Toe Review as places where such stuff is found. “We look,” she adds, “to have several books shortlisted for the Oklahoma Book Awards in various categories this year.” With recent features in Oklahoma Gazette, here, and elsewhere, RDP is certainly carrying its load to support and promote rural writing with Wilson at the helm.
You don’t have to wait for Wilson to find your work if you are an interested author, there are open submission periods for book queries and manuscript submission. That said, RDP looks for the best in New South and rural writing. And often, Wilson says, that means a lot of heartbreaking rejections. “I just rejected sixteen in a row,” she says of a month’s reading work.
Check out reddirtpress.net or their page at the Poets & Writers press database (http://m.pw.org/small_presses/ ) for more information, how to contact and submit, and to check out the fantastic rural writing RDP has to offer.
And so, Steve Parker and others have found home under the Red Dirt heading and look to build on. In addition to his legal profession and running his own cattle, Parker is nightly hard at work on his follow-up to his debut novel. He has, after all, an awaiting audience.
(Update: Check out Oklahoma Gazette's feature on RDP: http://okgazette.com/2016/12/16/shawnee-based-press-publishes-writing-of-the-new-south/)
Presses & Journals
The following list represents like minded publications and presses CJ recommends
Orson's Publishing & Review
Red Dirt Press
Steel Toe Review
Southern Literary Review