About Writing and Politics in Six Parts

1-4-00-courtesy-of-the-durham-museum-600x491Somehow I missed when this essay was posted in September, but it seems so much more appropriate to post here on the eve of Election Day anyway–an essay on the relation of politics and art within my work. So please finds my contribution–“About Writing and Politics in Six Parts”–in Schlossghost #1, a year book for the 2014-16 fellows of Akademie Schloss Solitude.

The essay is a response to two questions posed by the editors of Schlossghost, Paula Kohlmann and  Clara Herrmann. “Would you say that your (artistic) practice is political? If so, how would you describe its political dimension?”

Find the whole response at the link above, and here’s a sample for now:

In May, earlier this year, I covered a Donald Trump rally that took place in an aircraft hangar near the Omaha airport. At first I was a little worried about even going, as there had been quite a bit of violence at Trump rallies the month before and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a party to all that ugliness. But, on the other hand, of course I did. That’s a big part of my job description, the part of the job I like, to be witness to these things.

The rally itself was mostly dull. Trump spoke for a long time about Japanese tariffs without much insight, and the biggest part of his speech was a 20-minute anecdote about this time he handed out trophies at a charity golf tournament. During the rally a few protestors were thrown out. His supporters for the most part looked bored throughout, except at the beginning and end, when his helicopter landed and when they could chant »build that wall.«

I wondered about my feelings of disappointment after the rally. What was I expecting? Wasn’t xenophobia on display enough? Were the protestors dragged out too peacefully? Or did I miss something, the feeling of the event, the undercurrent? Did I feel the way I did because I wasn’t in the crowd? I sat up in the press section – a platform with tables where journalists were corralled behind a fence. By accident I sat between a Fox News anchor and his producer, to comic effect. Seeing their frustration with having to follow Donald Trump made me a little grateful for my obscure lot, for not having to spend all day working a story and then being told to reduce it to a ten-second clip of a long-haired young man shouting »fuck you« at the police.

The Reader on Omaha Lit Fest

The Reader did a cool spread in their latest issue on the upcoming (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest to go along with Leo Adam Biga’s article “Lit Fest delves into what we fear, how we relate in extremis.” The article features some choice quotes from Lit Fest Director Timothy Schaffert and a few participating authors, myself included, for the October 16 & 17 event.

The issue is currently out all over Omaha, so pick up a copy if you see one. Or, read the article here, on the The Reader‘s webpage. Here an excerpt:

Ted Wheeler, author of the chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown and the related novel Kings of Broken Things, says, “So much of interesting literature is about social outcasts. I see that as the central duty of a writer – to tell the stories that shouldn’t be told, to make personal demons public, to dredge up buried history or explore the parts of society that have been pushed out to the margins. The literary writer’s job is to say what can’t be said in polite company.”

Schaffert says the work of Wheeler, Wesselman and fellow panelist Marilyn June Coffey has “a kind of mythology, whether folklore or historical incident or ancient mythology.”

Wheeler explores Will Brown’s 1919 lynching in Omaha.

“My main intention was to give it treatment in a way I hadn’t seen done in any history books. The trick wasn’t really in explaining why this horrible event happened here, but more about resisting the urge to rationalize a mass act of treachery by exploring what it was like to be at a race riot and get caught up it the swerve of violent extremism.

“What’s interesting to me and what’s unspeakable about it in a certain way is this point where mundane life intersects with a notorious crime.”PubQuizcheck

Thanks to writer Leo Adam Biga for this.

Also, one last reminder. Opening night for the Pageturners Lounge Literary Pub Quiz (PTLLPQ for short) is this Wednesday, October 7 at 9pm. (Go here for more information. Or here.) In addition to some first-rate trivia, prizes, drinks, etc., we’re also featuring Timothy Schaffert as our guest co-quizmaster for the night. I’ll have a few questions just for Timothy about this year’s LitFest and his own popular novels (The Swan Gondola, Coffins of Little Hope). It will be fun. Even if the trivia is a total disaster, come laugh at me make a fool of myself. You can’t lose!

Treachery at the Omaha Lit Fest

The (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest is coming up on October 16 & 17. I’ll be there talking about my chapbook On the River Down Where They Found Willy Brown on the “Treachery” panel at 2pm on Saturday October 17 with Marilyn June Coffey and Douglas Vincent Wesselmann (aka Otis XII) All events are free and open to the public, and are hosted at the downtown branch of the Omaha library (215 S 15th St).

The theme this year is “Nervosa: Science, Psych & Story.” There’s a great lineup of authors participating, headlined by best-selling and National Book Award finalist Emily St. John Mandel. Just having her come to Omaha is a pretty big deal, so you won’t want to miss her or any of the other great writers, like Joy Castro and Julie Iromuanya. Thanks so much to Timothy Schaffert for putting this together.

The panel discussions are the same day as the Holland Stages Festival–so a pretty big day for free arts events in downtown Omaha. Free writers events at the library all afternoon then cross over the Gene Leahy Mall for free concerts by Conor Oberst, Simon Joyner, and Delfeayo Marsalis in the evening. Not too shabby!

Here’s the schedule of events for Lit Fest. I hope to see you there!

FRIDAY NIGHT, OCT 16 (6:30-9:30 pm)

ANXIETY: the opening night party/exhibits, W. Dale Clark Library
(downtown branch, 215 S. 15th St)

WIRED: THE LITERARY BENT-WIRE ART OF JAY COCHRANE

Featuring wire-and-book sculptures based on Gulliver’s Travels, Pride and Prejudice, Misery, Moby Dick, etc…

PINS & NEEDLES: THE PAINTINGS AND DRAWINGS OF ERIC POST AND SHARI POST

Sometimes-tranquil, sometimes-restless portraits in oil and ink.

THE POETRY BROTHEL

Again hosted by literary journal burntdistrict. The journal’s namesake, Omaha’s historic Burnt District, was infamous for its bordellos, gambling tables, and other unseemly underbellies in the 19th century. Relax in the brothel with your own intimate poetry.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON, OCT 17 (1-5 pm)

PANEL DISCUSSIONS, conducted by lit fest director and author Timothy Schaffert. W. Dale Clark Library (downtown branch, 215 S. 15th St).

DIAGNOSIS (1pm)

Featuring doctors/writers Bud Shaw (Last Night in the OR: A Transplant Surgeon’s Odyssey) and Lydia Kang (Catalyst). Shaw came to Nebraska in 1985 to start a new transplant program that quickly became one of the most respected transplant centers in the world. Kang’s background in medicine has inspired two YA sci-fi novels, scientific thrillers that explore a dark future of genetics.

TREACHERY (2pm)

Authors discuss personal demons, social outcasts, and drastic measures. Featuring: Marilyn June Coffey (Thieves, Rascals & Sore Losers: The Unsettling History of the Dirty Deals That Helped Settle Nebraska); Douglas Vincent Wesselmann (Tales of the Master: The Book of Stone); Theodore Wheeler (On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown).

EMPATHY (3pm)

Fiction writers Joy Castro (How Winter Began: Stories), Julie Iromuanya (Mr. and Mrs. Doctor) and Jennie Shortridge (Love Water Memory) discuss emotional depth in novels and stories, sentiment vs. sentimentality, and the process of exploring a character’s psychology on the page.

“STATION ELEVEN”: HEALTH, ILLNESS, AND THE END OF THE WORLD (4pm)

Novelist Emily St John Mandel, author of the best-selling, National Book Award-finalist Station Eleven, with Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola.

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!

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 (Kings of Broken Things). 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.