Solitude Atlas

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Akademie Schloss Solitude, this summer the Akademie and Edition Solitude put together a phenomenal book project called Solitude Atlas that brought together 145 participating authors (all former or current fellows) to contribute vignettes of varied form that describe the cities where they live. It’s quite a project. By the numbers, Solitude Atlas includes letters, poems, essays, and illustrations from nearly 100 different cities and 48 countries. When I was back at Solitude in February I talked to designer Phil Baber about the process he was going through to put together the book and the difficulties of making contributions that are in 20 different languages and feature numerous non-Latin alphabets all work in a single volume. It’s pretty remarkable.

Check out an interview with the book’s creators here.

For my contribution I ended up doing a few brief folk histories of infamous Omaha intersections–something that interests me a lot and is important to my process, listening to stories, digging up the history of a neighborhood or street corner or building. Looking at maps and atlases is one of my favorite pastimes too, particularly old maps that are useless except for the history they tell, so this narrative strategy seemed a natural fit to me.

A glimpse of the contribution from Palestinian architect and cartoonist Samir Harb.

Here’s a bit of it:

40th & Farnam

A lot of bars, two breweries & a coffee shop with tables outside coffee-shop-people sit at. Things have been cleaned up recently. Sullivan’s moved into the gutted & redone corner spot. Before that it was called Cheaters, which is clear what the owners were thinking. The city shut them down after an off-duty cop shot a 15-year-old boy in the street outside here. Both were drinking. When the teenager started trouble a melee bloomed. The off-duty chased the teenager into the street & wounded him about as benignly as a service revolver can wound. Dropped him in the middle of the street. The off-duty got in a bunch of trouble over this. Cheaters was pretty notorious so it was shut down. The spot was very ugly. There was white siding & a wood-panel door that looked like it had been kicked in a few times. The new guys, Sullivan’s, tore off the siding & cleaned up the original brick underneath, & there’s a fluorescent sign above the front door. A long time ago the same building was the Omaha Community Playhouse—founded by Dodie Brando, Marlon Brando’s mother. In its first season Henry Fonda got his start as an actor on that stage at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Fonda had a big career as an insurance actuary all lined up before he went into acting. There are lots of actuaries in Omaha—it’s a big city for that sort of thing. Marlon Brando also made his debut on that stage, at 40th & Farnam, where years later an off-duty cop would chase a drunk teenager out of a bar called Cheaters & put a bullet in a meaty part of the kid’s leg.

Be sure to check out Solitude Atlas at the Akademie’s online store. Whether you’re connected to Akademie Schloss Solitude or not, the book offers an interesting perspective into how artists see the world while demonstrating how these perspectives and voices come together under a single roof at Akademie Solitude (or in this case, between the the two covers of a book).

Pub Updates: Southern Review, Artful Dodge, Boulevard

Since we’re on the backside of summer and the days again are speeding up, a quick update on my forthcoming publications.

The Southern Review will publish “The Missing” in their autumn issue. I recently went through some edits with editor extraordinaire Emily Nemens and am really excited about how the story came out on the other side. Not that I wasn’t super excited about this before, but to have a journal editor spend two weeks working over every detail with me is pretty special. I appreciate all the hard work and can’t wait to share this one. Be sure to subscribe now to get the issue featuring my story delivered to your doorstep later on this year.

Artful Dodge will publish “The Hyphenates of Jackson County” in their autumn issue. This story won an AWP Intro Journals Project award earlier this year, a series that honors the best work coming out of MFA and other writing programs each year. Erin McGraw selected the story as a winner. I wrote a longish post here in April when the announcement was made, noting in particular how this piece was the opening chapter of a former iteration of my novel-in-progress, and expressed my gratitude and relief that this story brought home some hardware. I’ve still been playing around with this material now and again (the Strauss family in Jackson County, 1910-1917) and can easily see a novel coming out of what I have started and outlined. (Not that a novel ever comes easy.) Maybe if the first novel is published and does well The Hyphenates of Jackson County could be a followup book. Something to dream on anyway. Anyway, be sure to subscribe to Artful Dodge now and get in on the ground floor of this story.

-As announced last week, Boulevard will be publishing my story “Violate the Leaves” in their spring 2016 issue. I won’t repeat myself too much. If you’re interested in subscribing to Boulevard (and, yes, go for the trifecta) you can do so here.

Other than that, I’d just like to remind that my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown is still available in Kindle and bound form from Amazon, and from my publisher Edition Solitude (if you get giddy about receiving mail from overseas, this option is for you!), and from the following fine booksellers. If you happen to be in Omaha, Lincoln, Des Moines, ChicagoFruita, Seattle, Vancouver, Montreal, or Paris, please stop in at one of the stores that I’ve linked here and pick up a copy. They’re wonderful venues, so be sure to check them out.

Hanging out with my chapbook at Quimby's, an essential stop for fans of counterculture books in Chicago's Wicker Park.
Hanging out with my chapbook at Quimby’s, an essential stop for fans of counterculture books in Chicago’s Wicker Park.

Keep an eye on the Books page here for an updated list of where to find my work. I recently had to do a second printing of the chapbook to replenish my stock and have been thrilled with the response. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from having a chapbook published, but getting to do three big events (with at least one more coming this fall) and to find a high level of interest in the subject and my treatment of it, this has been a lot of fun. I’m really excited to get out next summer and promote my book of short stories (Bad Faith, Queen’s Ferry Press, July 2016) after learning a lot about presenting myself and my work to audiences both live and in cyberspace.

Cheers!

Boulevard Will Publish “Violate the Leaves” in Spring 2016 Issue

Boulevard No 81I’m pleased to share the news that my short story “Violate the Leaves” has been accepted for publication by Boulevard and will appear in their Spring 2016 issue!

This will be my fifth story with Boulevard. I’ve written a lot in this space about what the journal means to me, so I’ll keep it brief this time. Thanks to Editor Richard Burgin and Managing Editor Jessica Rogen for everything. (Subscriptions, which include the next three issues, start at $15, btw.) Also, a special thanks to CCB, Amber, and everyone in the winter workshop last December (Amy, Amy, Brian, Bob, Felicity, and Ryan) for their help working on the story. You guys are the best!

“Violate the Leaves” is a story I’ve been working on for quite some time, with parts of the original idea having been developed circa 2003 when I was in undergrad. It’s something I picked at every once in a while until the right elements finally came together last summer when I was at Akademie Schloss Solitude. It’s a father-and-son story about how the two deal with each other during a summer when the boy’s mother is overseas, in Iraq. The story is told in a fragmented voice, something I’ve been experimenting with a lot the past couple years. A spare, reticent voice has almost always been a hallmark of my work and I this story tries to push things further in that direction. This was the first thing I worked on while a resident of Schloss Solitude, so it should come as no surprise that the major features include: 1) a parent who leaves his/her family for an extended period, 2) a central character who is nearly incapable of expressing himself verbally, 3) an examination of nationality, and what it means to be a later generation German-American, if anything.

The story is also featured in my collection Bad Faith, forthcoming from Queen’s Ferry Press in July of 2016, and will be a good preview of the book for the dear readers of Boulevard. I have a couple stories coming out this fall and it’s nice to have next year’s calendar starting to fill in a bit as well.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the evening there were video calls with Mom. She was just getting up. Or just going to bed. I don’t remember what time it would have been over there. She was tired. My father dialed in the PC that sat on the floor next to the television, but he went outside before she answered. I brought the fishbowl downstairs to brag how I was keeping my goldfish alive.

She talked about the food she ate, once the PC was dialed in, the kinds of equipment she had around her neck and in the pockets of her med kit. Her stethoscope, her thermometer. Rubber gloves. Her voice digitized, sometimes doubling over itself in echoes. She always wore her hair up, over there, wore khaki tee shirts that fit tight around her. She smiled big when she saw me. So big the video broke up in pixilation. She asked how my day went and told me about her day. She tried to tell me about the people she worked with, or the bunker she rushed to if the Sense & Warn detected incoming, she said; and the geography, the mounds of desert that blew in under the doorways; and on the airplane going over, watching the sunset and sunrise only three hours apart over the Arctic Ocean.

I didn’t hear any of that. 

If she told me to shut up about asking when she was coming home, I would.

Omaha Uninitiated: Live from Solitude, 2.19.15

A couple months ago I posted some photos from my February trip to Stuttgart and performance of “Omaha Uninitiated: Stateside Race Riots & Lynching in the Aftermath of World War I.” Now the art, science & business program of Akademie Schloss Solitude has posted some video of the performance on their web site for the ongoing “Quotes & Appropriations” series. Unfortunately the video and music montage portion of Omaha Uninitiated–basically Darren Keen’s part–can’t be put online because of copyright laws. That’s really too bad, as Darren did some great work. However, if everything goes as planned with the novel that’s based on this same material we’ll be reprising Omaha Uninitiated before long in even more venues.

Thanks so much to Jean-Baptiste Joly, Lotte Thieroff, Valeska Neumann, Hagen Betzwieser, and everyone at Akademie Schloss Solitude for making this possible, and more specifically for producing this video. Also, a special thanks to The Durham Photo Archive, Omaha Public Library, and Omaha World-Herald for the use of images presented in the video.

Check it out!

FOUND: Details on the Melee at the 1919 Interrace Game in Omaha

Interrace BlurbLately there have been a few questions about the melee at the 1919 Interrace game in Omaha that’s featured both in my chapbook (On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown) and in my novel-in-progress (Red Summer). The scene I wrote is almost entirely fictionalized, as all I had to go on were a few mentions of a fight between black and white players in the game, and a general description of an annual match that took place around Independence Day at a ballfield in Deer Park. (After more research I figured the game must have been played in Rourke Park, a small baseball stadium in South Omaha that’s near Deer Park, the area around where Rosenblatt Stadium stood until a few years ago.) At the time I didn’t plan on writing anything about the game, just chalking it up to personal curiosity, so I didn’t think much more about it until I had to.

Recently, however, I went back through my old research and was able to track down some more solid source information and came across this article from the June 30, 1919 edition of the Daily Bee. (I apologize for the low quality of the image. A transcription is below.)

There are a few similarities between my fictional melee and the real one, including that the melee was struck off by a dirty play and a collision between players. The differences are pretty striking too. My melee is much smaller, as I thought having spectators flooding onto the field to join the fight would be over the top. Yet, at the real event hundreds of people from both races apparently did just that. Truth is stranger than fiction and all that, I guess. My favorite part is that the Chief of Police just happened to be in the crowd with some deputies to step in and arrest the offending “colored firstbaseman” before things got out of hand. Deus ex machina if there ever was one, right?

Pretty fascinating stuff. I’ve been excited to share this.

POLICE ARE CALLED TO QUELL NEAR RIOT AT ROURKE BALL PARK

Police quelled what tended to be a riot yesterday afternoon at Rourke Park when several hundred negroes swarmed onto the field from one side of the grandstand and several hundred whites from the other side after the firstbaseman for the Union Giants, a colored team, struck Jimmie Collins, outfielder for the Armours.

Chief of Police Eberstein, Russell Eberstein, Sergeant Russell and a squad of officers, most of whom were attending the game as spectators, dispersed the crowd and arrest Jack Marshall, the colored firstbaseman. 

The trouble started when Collins and Marshall collided at first base. Marshall, claiming that Collins had spiked him, struck Collins in the face while he had the ball in his hand.

Douglas County Historical Society Event for On the River is June 23

A quick note that I’ll be at the Douglas County Historical Society’s “Pages from Our Past” event on Tuesday, June 23 to read from my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown. We’ll discuss the elements of Omaha history that went into the writing of the book–and probably a few elements that didn’t.

If you missed the local launch party at Pageturners and my reading at Indigo Bridge Books, here’s your chance. Come meet the author!

See below for all this info:

Tuesday, June 23. 530-630pm. 

Douglas County Historical Society / Library Archives Center

Fort Omaha / 5730 N. 30 St, Omaha, NE 

omahahistory.org/calendar.html (See the bottom of the page for information on how to register.)

Douglas County Historical Society will feature Nebraska author Theodore Wheeler’s novella On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown at our June 23rd Page from Our Past author event taking place from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the DCHS Library Archives Center. The program focuses on history-based authors, both of fiction and non-fiction, and is held the fourth Tuesday of each month in the evening. A Page from Our Past is a casual and intimate roundtable discussion, where the audience has the opportunity to get up close and personal with the authors. Each program concludes with a book signing and time to meet one-on-one with the featured author.

On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown is the story of an immigrant boy who’s caught up in a race riot and lynching, based on events surrounding the Omaha Race Riot of 1919. While trying to find a safe place in the world after being exiled from his home during a global war, Karel Miihlstein is caught in a singular historical moment and one of America’s most tragic episodes.

Theodore Wheeler lives in Omaha with his wife and two daughters, where he is a legal reporter covering the civil courts of Nebraska.

Cost to participate in these discussions is $5 for members and $10 for non-members. Pre-registration is required and seating will be limited to 20 participants. To register, email members@douglascohistory.org or call 402-455-9990, ext. 101.

A Few Updates Regarding On the River: Photos, Bookstores, Goodreads Giveaway, a Review

I’d like to post a few updates regarding my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown (order in print or Kindle) as it has been out in the world for about three months now. The response has been great so far. When we first put in the order to have these printed I was pretty sure that I’d end up with a box of chapbooks in my office closet for the next few decades. But, three months in, I’m ordering a second batch from the printers. Combine that with some healthy action early on with Kindle sales and it shows that there’s some public interest in this story, along with my ability to write it, I hope. I’ve been hard at work on some edits to the novel that On the River is excerpted from and am pretty pleased to have this as another bit of evidence as to why a publisher should get behind this project. All in due time, of course. After more than more than a half-decade working on this book and developing these characters and the narrative voice, it’s nice to think that there’s a little light at the end of the tunnel. Or yet more crushing defeat. We’ll see.

Anyway, on to the new developments:

-First off, thanks to everybody who came out to Indigo Bridge Books in Lincoln last night. Presenting with Julie Iromuanya was a lot of fun, and the section she read from her novel Mr. and Mrs. Doctor was really, really good. This looks like yet another fascinating book among the many written by Nigerians and Nigerian-Americans the last few years.

Something my work shares with Julie’s is a playing around with perspective to show characters who are interested, but ultimately limited, in understanding what life is like for those around them. A couple questions came up in the Q&A session after the reading about this interesting strategy, what I see as exploring the limitations of the form we’re engaged in.

A fun night with a great conversation with Julie, moderator Jeff Moscaritolo, and the audience. Thanks so much to Jeff and Indigo Bridge for setting up the event, and to Julie for attracting an attentive, intelligent crowd.

-Check out this review of On the River by Sam Slaughter posted today on Small Press Book Review: “Tensions That Never Change.” My favorite part:

The distance created by the narrator is the most interesting part of this chapbook. At once, you are both part of the mob and hovering above them, taking it all in, watching the chaos that ensues, cringing at their choices and the injustice that takes place. You know that the narrator is one of the German immigrants—the prose is speckled with Deutsch—but you never know who it is. At best, you can guess that it’s one of Miihlstein’s lackeys, though a lackey with prescience unknown to his comrades. There is little emotional involvement on the part of the narrator. Very much as Lewis Nordan does in Wolfwhistle, Wheeler shows the thoughts of the mob in front of you and lets you decide what to make of it.

Willy Brown is over almost as soon as it starts, and that’s a shame. The prose carries you along until the inevitably sad end. Like with any good work of literature, you are left wanting more.

-Nine days remain on the Goodreads Giveaway for a signed-copy of On the River. It’s free to enter, so long as you have a free Goodreads account. So far, 102 people have said they’d be willing to accept a free copy of my chapbook. I don’t know if that’s a good number or not, but it’s more than three, so I’m happy.

-If you haven’t seen the list of bookstores that are now selling On the River, check it out. Particularly the number of shops where I’m not a local author that are taking a chance by stocking my book. In addition to Solid Jackson, Jackson Street Booksellers, and Prevue Salon here in Omaha, and Indigo Bridge Books in Lincoln, I’ve added Lithic Bookstore in Fruita, Colorado, Left Bank Books in Seattle, Argo Bookshop in Montreal, and Shakespeare & Company in Paris.

-And, finally, a few photos of the chapbook in bookstores and other places. If you happen to have a copy of On the River and feel like snapping a photo of it in your neighborhood, I’d love it if you’d send it to me. It’s kind of corny and self-congratulatory, but whatever. I like them. I’m corny. I like congratulating myself for trivial accomplishments.

Race, Gender, Violence, and Performed Identities: Tonight at Indigo Bridge Books with Julie Iromuanya!

If you’re in Lincoln tonight and free for the evening, come out to Indigo Bridge Books (701 P Street, in the Creamery Building) at 7pm to hear me read from my chapbook, On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown. I’ll be opening for Julie Iromuanya, who will read from her debut novel from Coffee House Press, Mr. and Mrs. Doctor, with a joint Q&A session to follow. It will be fun and should produce some good discussion. The event is titled Race, Gender, Violence, and Performed Identities.

Indigo Bridge Books and their event guru Jeff Moscaritolo have been amazing to work with, both for this event and in their stocking and display of my chapbook in the store. Lincoln is lucky to have such an awesome independent bookshop with the means and spirit to support writers like this, something that was desperately lacking when I grew up there.

And while we’re at it: Happy Book Birthday, Julie!

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor features the story of Ifi and Job, a Nigerian couple in an arranged marriage, who begin their lives together in Nebraska with a single, outrageous lie: that Job is a doctor, not a college dropout. Unwittingly, Ifi becomes his co-conspirator—that is until his first wife, Cheryl, whom he married for a green card years ago, reenters the picture and upsets Job’s tenuous balancing act.

Julie Iromuanya is a writer, scholar, and educator. Born and raised in the American Midwest, she is the daughter of Igbo Nigerian immigrants. Her creative writing has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Passages North, Cream City Review, and the Tampa Review, among other journalsShe earned her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she was a Presidential Fellow and award-winning teacher. Learn more about Julie at her website: julieiromuanya.com.

Happy Book Birthday: Quiet City by Susan Aizenberg

quiet cityCongratulations are in order for Susan Aizenberg on the publication of her new collection of poems from BkMk Books, Quiet City. Way to go, Susan!

One of the great literary treasures of Omaha, Susan has taught me numerous times during my stints at Creighton University–despite being a poet, she taught me everything I know. Her guidance has been invaluable both on a professional and personal level, particularly when I became a father while in grad school back in 2007. I couldn’t be happier for Susan on the occasion of her third book.

If you’re in the Omaha area, come out to the publication party for Quiet City on Wednesday, May 6, at 730pm, Solid Jackson Books. (See the above link for more details.)

Here’s a bit about the book:

Many of these poems are set in the mid-twentieth century and feature such personae as writers Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams and photographer Roman Vishniac, as well as less-public figures in Brooklyn, Nebraska, and elsewhere, all of whom confront the wounds of love, family, history, and time. ”In poem after poem,” David Jauss writes, Aizenberg ”reveals an astonishingly wide-ranging and deeply empathetic imagination, not to mention the eye of a painter and the ear of a musician.” ”Aizenberg’s vision is clear, her language exact, and her music is perfectly pitched,” writes Betsy Sholl, a past poet laureate of Maine. ”These are keenly intelligent poems navigating the distance and circuitous route between grief and its redemption.” Poet Kathy Fagan writes, ”Aizenberg’s Quiet City reminds us how the wounds of history keep on wounding both in our homes and the larger world.”