The Camden County library at Macks Creek, Mo.
I first met Doug Pokorny shortly after taking my first job out of college, as a reporter for the Wayne County Journal-Banner. Glen Tooke, one of the pressmen at the J-B, told me almost immediately, “You need to meet Doug Pokorny,” so I made a point of it.
What I found was one of the most original individuals I’ve ever known. Doug was born in Chicago but raised in Piedmont, and was at the time the proprietor of a little tavern outside of town called the Deerpath Inn. He and his mother, Georgie, made everyone welcome, from local intellectuals to loggers stopping by for a beer and a sandwich on their way home from a day in the woods. There was often a chess game going on the counter–I quickly learned that his chess skills were way out of my league.
Doug’s curiosity and somewhat unorthodox reputation were equally well known in the area. People brought him trivia questions, math problems, and atrocious jokes, all of which he welcomed with equal delight. But his real passion was language and literature. We had many fanciful nights talking Faulkner and Joyce.
As a result, Doug and I, with the enthusiasm only the young and foolish could muster, started a literary magazine, Ozark Review, with the help of Susan Davis, Spence Lyon, and Mary Frenzel, other literature-loving types in the area. To our amazement, we received grants from the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines and the Missouri Arts Council, and for a couple of years we published literary (and semi- or out-and-out nonliterary) works from a wide variety of Ozark writers. We held poets’ picnics and found ourselves featured in statewide media.
I returned to Columbia for graduate work, and Doug left the Deerpath to go into teaching. For many years he was the inspiration (and terror) of legions of Clearwater High School English students, who, I suspect, never knew quite what to make of him, and thus let him work his high-energy insanity and allowed his insatiable love of knowledge to infect them. How he managed to survive in the bureaucracy of a school system is a testament to the intelligence of the people within that system!
Now in retirement, Doug continues to learn and to teach in his own way, devouring ancient languages and posting prolifically on Facebook–but his posts, unlike most of our own sadly humdrum concerns, are almost entirely devoted to celebrating the beauties of art, nature, and the human spirit. He inundates my news feed with odd glories gleaned from the corners of the earth. Every so often, a former student posts thanks on his page for having stunned him into an insight in some unusual fashion–whether by reciting the entirety of “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” from memory or by stopping a class commotion by putting the stapler to his own forehead.
I’ve got a busy speaking schedule this fall and am really looking forward to connecting with people in a variety of settings. Here’s what I’m up to. If you’re in the vicinity, please come out and say hello!
August 19-21, “The Art and Craft of the Sequel,” at the Historical Writers of America conference in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.
September 13. “Rags and Meat and Hide and Hair: Violence in the Ozarks Master Narrative,” Ozarks Celebration Festival Lecture Series, Missouri State University, Springfield, Mo.
September 23-24, Ozarks Cultural Symposium, West Plains, Missouri.
October 22, Keynote speaker for the Festival of Painted Leaves, Bonniebrook Gallery, Home, and Museum, Branson, Missouri.
Recently published this review of Gwen Roland’s Postmark Bayou Chene in Nola Diaspora, a wonderful small journal devoted to the art and literature of New Orleans and southern Louisiana. If you enjoy reading historical fiction about the swamps of south Louisiana, this book is well worth a look. And all of Nola Diaspora is well worth a look too! Browse the back issues….lots of good stuff there.
Fascinating analysis by my old friend Terry Bollinger.
The TOP Blog — Nov 1, 2015
It is the day after Halloween, and a zombie is shuffling through the halls of the Republican Presidential nomination process. Like most zombies, it does not yet realize it is dead.
My somewhat retro future prediction for this blog entry* is that the Presidential campaign of Governor Jeb Bush died from a self-inflicted short, sharp, shock back on October 24, a week before the debate in which he did a truly and exceptionally conspicuous job of not standing out in any way.
More specifically, on October 24 Jeb chose to leap far beyond the bounds of the social contract envelope of what is acceptable for a Presidential candidate to say.** That envelope of acceptability varies by both candidate and audience, and is absolutely gigantic for Donald Trump — a fascinating topic for a future blog entry.
Alas, for Jeb Bush the contract for…
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I recently learned that This Old World is a finalist for the M. M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction. This award was established to honor the longtime book critic for the Christian Science Monitor, who went on to write two highly regarded historical novels, May 1812 and Of Honest Fame. More about M. M. Bennetts here.
Needless to say, I am thrilled at this honor. As I looked over the list of other finalists (there are 12, counting myself), I was struck by the diversity of the nominees. There are novels from several different countries and novels about eras all the way from ancient to modern. And that’s when I decided to give myself a challenge.
I am going to try to read and review all the other finalists’ novels, and to interview each finalist. I’d like to have them all read and reviewed by the date of the announcement of the winner (June 27), but admittedly that might be an over-ambitious deadline. But I’ll read as many as I can by then and finish up the rest later.
I have contacted the other finalists and so far have heard back from ten of them. And I’ve already finished one book! Check out my blog soon for the review and interview.
The question often comes to me when I’m speaking at libraries and civic groups around the state: “Why are there no utopian novels nowadays?”
I believe the utopian impulse still exists, only in a fashion so modified as to be nearly unrecognizable, but it is true that utopian novels in the vein of Herland or A Traveler from Altruria don’t come out these days. Instead, the dominant literary fashion is dystopian – especially, oddly enough, in books aimed at teenage readers.
The classic utopian novels were designed to present a critique of existing society and an alternative to the ills of that society. Today’s dystopian novels, to some extent, engage in that same critique, but instead of an alternative, they predict the dire future that awaits us if our current ills are not addressed.
The utopian novel arises from faith in human progress; the dystopian novel from its lack.
The utopian novel imagines that our better natures are held down by a faulty social structure; the dystopian novel imagines that the faulty social structure arises from our inner faults.
The absence of utopian novels shouldn’t be construed, though, as a complete absence of faith in human nature. We should remember that the utopian novel also existed as an intellectual argument, and the novel today is much less about argument and more about action. It’s intrinsically more exciting to read about a society in ruins, and the independent survivors who live in its ashes, than about a harmonious society that has solved its problems.
The utopian impulse still exists, though, and I think it has turned inward. What’s one of the largest sections of the bookstore? “Self-help.” We are bombarded with solutions . . . not for the ills of our society, but for those of ourselves. We can, the authors promise us, make ourselves perfect. Or at least darn close.
I’ve written about Ellen Massey before, in a “Favorite Ozarks People” entry. She was a gentle and thoughtful soul who never stopped writing. In fact, this year she won the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America in the Juvenile Fiction category for her book Papa’s Gold.
Ellen died at the age of 92 last month. She was a lifetime member of the Missouri Writers’ Guild and a former president. Truly a life well lived.
Here’s a nice news story about Ellen.
Finally, one of the most memorable experiences at the MWG conference – an experience that I have had for several years now – is watching the legions of volunteers who make it all come together.
These volunteers are all busy, successful people: publishers and writers, for the most part, people who would benefit from attending workshops or meeting with agents and editors. Instead, they choose to work the conference, helping attendees find their meeting rooms, shepherding speakers to and from the airport and around the hotel, setting up the webpage, and all the many other necessary tasks. Why do they do it? I think it’s because they recognize the importance of what they’re doing, and they have an instinctive desire to help others. The conference volunteers are a fantastic group.
Do yourself a favor, and do them a favor, by visiting their websites or blogs and checking out their books. I bet you’ll find some to your liking. Volunteers included Lisa Miller, conference chair, from Walrus Publishing of St. Louis; mystery writer Tricia Sanders; writer Deborah Schott, who managed our treasury; award-winning YA author Brian Katcher; publishers Kristy Makansi and Winnie Sullivan, who handled the bookstore; YA author Sarah Whitney Patsaros; St. Louis Writers’ Guild president Brad Cook; writer, editor, and reviewer Jan Cannon; MWG secretary, now treasurer, Donna Essner, who also serves as president of the Southeast Missouri Writers’ Guild; and a whole bunch of people who served as shepherds. I’m sorry that I didn’t jot down the names of all who served as shepherds, but I did spot authors Peter H. Green and T. W. Fendley.
Check out these links! You won’t regret it!
If I had included this in a novel, people would have said the symbolism was just too obvious and strained.