Saturday, September 15, 2001

Blake Nelson

I think that it is safe to say that in our collective consciousness there exists the character-concept of the young, emerging writer. A someone who goes to college, dabbles in whatever youth-driven pop-culture exists at the time, and by dint of talent, an unerring ear, dedication to craft and unrelenting hard work, finds a strong and unique narrative voice to write a simple, unembellished story about coming of age.

That novelist actually exists, his first novel was an immediate success and now in its tenth printing.

If you're thinking of J. D. Salinger and Catcher in the Rye, you're out of luck. J.D. isn't here tonight, so he's out of luck too. Salinger was hot stuff in the Fifties, but didn't attempt to write his novel from a feminine point of view. Besides, Hollywood never made Catcher in the Rye into a movie. But Hollywood did film Blake Nelson's first novel, Girl, and he IS here.

Comparable to the strong, narrative voices reminiscent of Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge and the character Mattie Ross in Charles Portis' classic, True Grit, Blake's creation of Andrea Marr in Girl is compelling and unsentimental, as tough as the meanest street in Portland. I think she'll be around a long, long time.

A product of Portland and Jesuit High School and educated at Wesleyan University and New York University, Blake knocked around New York and San Francisco performing poetry at spoken word events, but eventually found his way back to Portland where he wrote Girl in 1993. Girl was picked up by Simon and Shuster in 1994, and the film version was released in 1999. Blake's second novel, Exile, saw print in 1997, also by Simon and Shuster. His third novel, User, will be released this fall by Versus Press.

Sam Hamill

When Carla requested biographical information about him, poet, editor and translator Sam Hamill made a very specific statement about introductions:

"The shorter the Intro; the better I like it,"

which presents me with a dilemma. In preparation, I read a lot of material on each guest writer presented here. I've come to realize that some writers have more interesting writing than lives, and others, more interesting lives than writing. Then along comes Sam Hamill, who is damned interesting on both counts, but who says: 'keep it short.' Yet the purpose of intros, of course, is to acquaint the audience with the writer. So, here goes nothin'.

Whelped in 1943
orphan of the Last Good War,
adoption and battering by Utah farm-folk
escape to jail, heroin, San Francisco
a turn-around at words of Beat Poets Rexroth and Snyder,
wrong turn into Marine Corps and Okinawa
slow turn into conscientious objector
long-term immersion in Confucius and Cantos
birthed Copper Canyon Press
water-hauling, wood-splitting
twenty-foot trailer
electricity a stranger
fifteen books of poetry
twenty-eight translations from Ancient Chinese, Japanese, Estonian and Ancient Greek
editing, editing
two Pushcarts, a Guggenheim
awards, fellowships
scholarship by candlelight
ever seeking the way of poetry.

Copper Canyon Press