Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jeff DeMark

The majority of the 240 writers presented by the Nye Beach Writers' Series have stood behind a lectern and read a little and talked a little, with the emphasis on the writing itself. We've been blessed with good readers and excellent readers and so-so readers; but only with a smattering of actual PERFORMERS, most notably the Dolly Ranchers, Three Guys From Albany, Jeff Meyers, Vaudevillinous Poets, Bill Joe Shaver and Zoa Smith. We are pleased then, to have with us tonight a writer and performer who has been a surprise and delight to audiences all over the country.

A man of many experiences and occupations, from factory-worker to cab-driver, substitute English teacher to ad-salesman for the San Francisco Giants and now working in the development department of public radio affiliate KHSU at Humboldt State University, Jeff DeMark transforms personal history into solo performance. He draws from various stages of his life in his four acclaimed pieces: "Writing My Way Out of Adolescence," "Went To Lunch, Never Returned," "Making Every Mistake Twice," and most recently, "Hard As A Diamond, Soft As The Dirt.

Viewers who watched the opening episodes of Carnivale on HBO would likely remember the gritty close-up of one of the main characters who happens to be a dwarf with a large, extraordinarily shaped head, who looked directly into the camera and delivered a pro forma, mock-profound monologue in Biblical tones assuring and reminding us that yes, Virginia, there is a great struggle between good and evil that rocks our world on a regular basis. And here I thought everything could be taken care of if we all just did our patriotic bit and went shopping. It's really somewhat of a disappointment. My own personal experience on the planet has taught me that most folks have very little time to struggle with the forces of good and evil. 99.99 percent of the time we're concerned with working, paying the bills and figuring out how to satisfy our emotional needs.

We don't have a big-headed dwarf to set us straight with the good and evil thing, but we do have Jeff DeMark to present the highlights of his struggle with work and love.

To learn more about Jeff visit his website at http://jeffdemark.com

Introduction by Marianne Klekacz
Photo by Carla Perry

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Elinor Langer

On November 12, 1988, a group of Portland, Oregon, skinheads known as East Side White Pride encountered three Ethiopians in a street fight, resulting in the brutal death of Mulugeta Seraw. A year later, Ken Mieske ended up pleading guilty to first degree murder. The other two, Kyle Brewster and Steve Strasser, pled guilty to manslaughter and assault.

Langer originally agreed to cover the skinheads’ trial for “The Nation,” but the accused bargained their way to prison; no trial was ever held. Research for her book began after she persuaded “The Nation” to run a special issue in 1990 on the murder and the neo-Nazi movement. Langer saw a link between the three men who beat Seraw to death, The Branch Davidian conflagration in 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh in 1995.

Elinor Langer’s book about the incident, “A Hundred Little Hitlers,” vividly reconstructs the world of the skinheads: their origins in the punk scene, their basement shrines to Nazi power, their moments of glory on Oprah and Geraldo. She examines the long-standing radical groups that encouraged the movement, tracking the progress of such powerful figures as White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger through key bastions of the Far Right. In gripping detail, she follows civil-rights lawyer Morris Dees's efforts to prove Metzger responsible for the Portland killing.

“One of the skinheads lived near me,” explained Langer. “I had a babysitter whose boyfriend played in a band with one of them, and the other had been homecoming king at Grant High School.” Langer hoped her book would serve as a catalyst for debate and further research.

Langer has been a contributor to national publications since the 1960s, including The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, Mother Jones, and The Nation. Her biography of the American radical novelist and journalist Josephine Herbst was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle award. She has received several fellowships, including the Guggenheim, Bunting, and the Open Society Institute. Besides teaching at Reed, she has taught writing at Portland State University and at the Mountain Writers-Pacific MFA Program.

Photo by Carla Perry