Just back from The Normal School Magazine's 7th anniversary celebration, where Matthew Gavin Frank (author of the wondrous new book Preparing the Ghost) and I both took part in a "Monsters from the Deep" reading. Thanks to major promo work by nonfiction maestro & Normal School editor Steve Church, we had a fantastic turnout and a seriously lively event. Steve also commissioned these amazing letterpress broadside prints to commemorate the celebration:
A million thanks to all the Fresno State students and faculty who turned out. A billion thanks to Steve & Andrea Mele for the huge hospitality, and to Matthew Gavin Frank, who made the trip all the way from Michigan.
A special shout to Dr. John Hales, a fellow Moby-Dick fanatic, who assigned The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld to students in all three of his graduate and undergraduate creative writing classes this fall.
The day before the event, Steve and Andria took me on a tour of the legendary Forestiere Gardens of Fresno. Reminiscent of large-scale public folk art like the Watts Towers, the Gardens were built by ingenious Italian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere, who carved out a byzantine system of catacombs over the course of forty years, using nothing but a pick axe and shovel. He also found that citrus trees grew better in the softer soil of his catacombs. This place was fantastic, and just one of several reasons I want to make more visits to California's Central Valley and the Cascades.
Did I mention that The Normal School is my favorite literary magazine on the planet? It's the straight-up truth: they publish some of the best & boldest creative nonfiction out there, and they have a damn good time while they're at it. The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld owes pretty much everything to Steve Church and The Normal School--the project first got noticed by a literary agent after an excerpt called "All I Need Is This Thermos" appeared in a 2011 issue.
Steve is also one of my favorite writers on the planet. He was like an amiable older brother during grad school. He kept me in line, introduced me to all the cool stuff--in this case, pretty much the entire genre of creative nonfiction. He inspired the hell out of me with his relentless work ethic, fierce intelligence, and ridiculous sense of humor (in a literary manifesto he drafted for our writing group, The Minions, he called for writers to use words like "pants" or "gravy" more often.)
I'm currently reading Steve's fantastic new essay collection, Ultrasonic, which is due out in December 2014:
In my blurb for the book, I wrote, "Ultrasonic is a tale told by a literary mastermind, full of sound and fury, signifying everything."
Seriously, this book is going to rock your world.
I have the good fortune to interview Steve for the Tin House blog; look for it in mid December.
Thanks again, Mr. Church, and to all the good people of Fresno.
Over and out,