Rain, Flying Trees, The American Book Award

When I left Seattle on Thursday heavy rain was falling and my father-in-law had told me that hundred a mile an hour winds would be coming. When he began to talk about the rain and the wind, my wife and I had a plane to catch and we didn’t listen to him, much.


My father-in-law dwells on the prudence in any situation, the need to be careful no matter what. He spends much of his time winterizing his cars, weatherproofing his house, removing troublesome limbs from his trees, having his car checked, a nearly endless routine where he has designated specialists for each part in his car. His undercarriage shop in Totem Lake, about thirty miles to the house. His muffler technician, Erwin, works from a cinderblock garage on the banks of the Cedar River in Renton. His brake’s men work on Pacific Highway South in Federal Way. As he makes his rounds, he stops at Indian Food Buffets and bakeries. The recent influx of immigrants from Russia has resulted in some great new bakeries. My father-in-law is from the East End in London and grew up near the Arsenal Field and hates cinnamon but loves apple and can rarely find apple pastry in America without cinnamon.

He shares his largess and prudence with his family in compulsory lectures on household maintenance.

At the airport the routine of passing through security and getting the gate, the removing of the shoes, the double-checking of liquid, the removal of all objects into little grey trays was now so routine that the line quickly moved through the check point and then we were on our plan the plane shook in turbulence as we passed out of Seattle.

We arrived in Oakland and it took us longer to get to our hotel from the airport than it did to get from Seattle to Oakland. We rode on a bus and then from the bus we rode on the Bart and then from the Bart we took a Taxi. By this time the wind had grown very strong in Seattle. The power had gone out at our father in law’s house. Our daughter informed us that this was “the baddest Christmas ever,” taking a perverse delight in how poorly things were going for her.

Seattle had been inundated with rain water during the night. Portions of the state highway system were underwater. CNN reported that one million homes were without power. A woman attempting to rescue her microphones from her basement drowned.

My father-in-law discovered a cedar tree on the roof of hour house. One limb punctured the eves of the house. The tree growing at the edge of the property, covered in moss had a rotten core, split into two halves. Our house essentially floats in a swamp. At night there is the sound of frogs and toads. Sometimes when I mow the lawn, a half dozen frogs jump from the grass. During any rain at all a sump pump forces water from below our basement into a drainage ditch under hour deck. When it rains it sounds like there is a creek outside. But our basement was dry. A tree had just hit hour house.

On Friday night there was a reading and ceremony thing for the American Book Award at the African American History Museum in Oakland. The American Book Award goes to a small stack of books every year and just about all of the authors of these books had come to get awards.

Several of the books were self published and the majority of books released by small presses or self-published. The woman running the table with books complained that she didn’t like print-on-demand books. She said, “Librarians don’t like print-on-demand books.” Several of the winners of this year’s award were print-on-demand books. For the most part all of the print-on-demand books were on hand whereas the publishers at the university presses and main stream presses hadn’t sent any copies of books. “I don’t think most authors are choosing print-on-demand over traditional publishers. They are just doing what they have to do, and I can’t imagine that print-on-demand is going away. I’m not sure how librarians are going to deal with the future of books. I can’t see how print-on-demand is going to go away.”

In fact I’m thinking about doing my next book as a print-on-demand publication seeing is how I don’t exactly have publishers banging down my door asking for my next manuscript. But this response to her saying, “Librarians don’t like print-on-demand book,” just brought an awkward silence. “But at least my current book is printed the old fashioned way,” I said trying to change the subject, but the damage was already done.

I wasn’t sure how long the reading was — but it became apparent after McKenzie Bezos read, after I read, after David Díaz that just about everyone had come to pick up their prize were going to read and it was going to be a long night. The readings were all pretty good. Thomas J. Ferraro spoke so quickly it was like listening to spoken microfiche. He talked about navigating ethnic roles — either as an African-American or from his own experience and research into Italian -Americans, and there was something about a jazz, comedy record he’d first heard in San Francisco.

In introducing P. Lewis, Ishmael Reed began to unwind about the state of popular African American books and then introduced a writer who he made comparisons to Richard Wright and Chester Himes. When P. Lewis began to talk he lacked the any poise and polish at all and seemed instead earnestly interested in his work and how to get it into the world. It took him five years to write his book and then no one would publish it so he published it himself. P. Lewis was not trying to create a kind of commodity of his work delivering the smooth pleasures of what you want to hear.

[Profiles of the 2006 Winners – PDF]

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