Sunday, February 15, 2009
The City is Windy, But the Company is Warm
It's 10:30 pm Central Standard Time, an hour and a half from Day Fourteen of the tour. We've blitzkrieged our way across the western half of the country and back: Toledo/Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Bellingham, Tacoma, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and, the last few days, Chicago again.
For me, it was one part break, one part frenzy. I arrived Wednesday with Milwaukee host extraordinaire Drew Blanchard, who introduced me to Peruvian poets and their signature liquors, toured me through the offices of the Cream City Review, took me to a place that served bacon wrapped in cheese wrapped in egg roll and deep fried, let me sleep, let me launder my clothes, let me play with his dogs, and drove me to Chicago. I've stopped counting the favors I owe him.
After arriving, I hightailed it to Sheffield's, where I read with such luminaries as Matt Bell, Amy Guth, Darlin Neal, and Mike Czyzniejewski. (Apologies in advance for the name dropping. There's more to come. Everyone in the world was in town for the AWP Conference!) The crowd was enthusiastic, and the room was more than full. I got to see some old friends there, too, among them Cliff Garstang, who shared news of his forthcoming book, and my editor, Dan Wickett.
By ten we were done, and I was off to Division Street, to spend the evening carousing with my brother and our old friend Tim Sheff, who knew all the best places to eat and drink, and right in the part of town where meets the north and south sides and the east and west sides, which gives me license, I suppose, to say that I visited all four quadrants of the city.
Thursday I went for a long walk with the celebrated Roy Kesey (newly returned from Beijing!, a loss for China but a real coup for Syracuse, New York), visited the art museum (Van Gogh! Van Gogh!) with the painter Trent Miller and the poet J. L. Conrad, also old friends. Also: lunched with Twentysomething Essays alum Joey Franklin, cruised the bookfair (where I got to see Laura van den Berg, Mike Alber, Aaron Burch, and more friends and more), dinnered with Anthony Neil Smith (we talked Plots with Guns, genre fiction, and our shared love for both) and eveninged at the only semi-empty hotel bar on Michigan Avenue, with Keith Lee Morris, Joe Oestreich, Heather Kirn, a very inebriated poet of new acquaintance, three gutter punks, and a few homeless ladies.
Friday was the AWP reading with my fellow Dzanc authors -- Allison Amend, Roy Kesey, Mike Czyzniejewski, and Louella Bryant. The room was packed with friends, many of whom I had seen during the West Coast leg of the tour, and it was also warm with goodwill -- a credit to the people at Dzanc, especially Dan Wickett, who organized the reading and introduced us with characteristic generosity.
After dinner with Dan and Matt Bell, I wandered back to the hotel, where I met up with Christopher Coake, Mike Alber, and a bunch of Ohio State MFA students. We rode the El to Pizzeria Due, where we feasted on their world-famous pizza, brainstormed titles for Mike's TV pilot, and talked shop about books, writing, and literature (not necessarily in that order.) I enjoyed almost everything about these days in Chicago, but the time with Chris, Mike, and the others, was no doubt the best of it. I was sad to see the evening end.
Saturday I joined Pinckney Benedict, Scott Kaukonen, David McGlynn, and Angela Pneuman, for a panel on Postevangelical Literature, a term none of us could define, but I guess we knew it when we saw it. The room again was overfull, and the audience fairly enthusiastic about our talk of love for Catholic writers like Flannery O'Connor, Andre Dubus, and Graham Greene, and half the fun was watching Pinckney hold forth with his characteristic straight talk and good humor.
I was lucky afterward to spend twenty minutes with Erin McGraw, one of my teachers from grad school days, and now a mentor and friend. (This, too, was a real highlight.) Then I hightailed it back to Wicker Park, where I joined my brother and his wife for their Valentine's Day dinner and a rousing game of Uno. We spent the evening resting, and Sunday all of us got some work done -- my brother working on some new songs, his wife studying for law school, me returning emails and figuring out how to get everywhere in Boston tomorrow.
Then I took the train north, to Kathy and Martin's house. We shared dinner (potato kale soup, oatmeal biscuits, and cherry cake) with Kathy's sister Beth and her husband Nick, and I finally got to meet Martin for the first time (and a first-class guy, he is.) I write you from their computer, and now I'm off to bed, just in time to get a few hours of sleep before the 3:20 am wakeup call.
See you in Boston?