At the AWP Conference in Minneapolis last year, I had the honor of participating in a panel of writers addressing the subject, “Confronting Our Fears: Turning Adversity into Art.” The latest edition of Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies offers a special conference issue, and it includes our panel discussion alongside three other panels: two from the 2015 Nonfiction Now Conference in Flagstaff, and one from the 2015 ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment) Conference in Moscow, Idaho.
This Sunday, like all Sundays, in another mass I will not be attending, there is a space of prayer between the creed and the offering of bread and wine. Catholics call this the Prayers of the Faithful. A man has had surgery. Someone’s baby died. A priest has gone away for a family visit in another country–Italy, Romania, Argentina. The war continues. There are homeless. Repairing a leak in the church will cost $700. Often there is a petition for “those who have lost their faith” to return. Lord hear our prayer. Lord have mercy.
If the success of Orange Is the New Black offers any indication, it seems fair (and gross) to say that prison has become “pop”—for a Twitter moment, anyway. Even the cover of the Economist June 20-24 proclaims, “Jailhouse Nation: 2.3 million reasons to fix America’s prison problem.” Progressive-glam MSNBC has been boosting its ratings with weekends of Lockup since 2005.
Everybody (white? middle class?) seems suddenly if temporarily agreed upon the disgrace and “inefficiency” of prison conditions. We all exchange nods over restaurant pasta and craft beers about how we need to “change the system.”
For almost four years now, as I’ve completed a second book, 1966 has weighed heavily on my mind. Maybe you were born that year, or one of your siblings was. Maybe you got married then, or your parents did. Perhaps you graduated, or got drafted. Maybe you lost someone—to distance, disease, or drinking; to random violence or Vietnam.
In May that year, The Beach Boys released Pet Sounds, an album that received some critical acclaim despite mostly popular failure. Love and Mercy, a stunning biopic about Brian Wilson released last weekend (starring John Cusack and Paul Dano), devotes an amazing amount of detail to the creation of songs for that album. It wasn’t an easy process.
Thanks to Joshunda Saunders for inviting me to participate in this blog tour! Joshunda is one of the most insightful and prolific writers I’ve had the good fortune to meet, read, and commiserate with in the past two years. You can check out her terrific blog, including her own reflections on process, right here.
1. What are you working on?
Two and a half years ago, I started working on an an essay collection about public performances of violence in America. As I began, I thought that the section about the 1966 clock tower shooting at UT Austin would be the first chapter, alongside nine other chapters including San Diego, Waco, and Tucson. What I’ve discovered is that the UT Austin research and writing has demanded a space of its own. I’m almost finished with a stand-alone triptych about that event. It’s 12o pages or so: two lyric essays at beginning and end, with a centerpiece of narrative reportage/investigative journalism. I haven’t abandoned the larger project, but it was important to recognize and respect the full weight of the box inside the box.