Knox Writers’ House 1st Birthday Sound Off

Posted on January 14, 2013


Knox Writers’ House Contributor’s Pick of the Week 1/14/2013

A year ago Knox Writers’ House went live. In honor of this and how our map-house continues to stand and grow, the original four KWH creators retell stories from its making. Thank you to all who have read and listened. And to Galesburg Illinois, in whose soil this seed took.  

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner read by Lon Otto in The Twin Cities

Chosen by Bryce Parsons-Twesten in Chicago, IL who says:

Driving down into St. Louis, across the river and out of Illinois, onto the highway and off again, into and out of traffic, onto unfamiliar side streets, lined and unlined with trees, the search for numbers on doors and mailboxes in stone, brass, simple black plastic, no numbers at all, this side odd, that side even, seeing it, that’s the one, park, find parking, catch your breath, check your pockets, check the bag, breathe, I wish we had coffee, that’s it there? okay, let’s go, and being welcomed into the living room of Carl Philips like walking into, Emily says, a Rothko painting.

It is amazing to me that this thing has been here, in public, for a year. And it becomes quickly clear to me how difficult it is to talk about The Knox Writers’ House. It has been a website alive on the internet, a place people can visit and listen to writers reading their work, for a year, but it was born with the first recording and long drive and nights sleeping on floors long before that, begun in excited talk and in effusive, heart-bearing emails to complete strangers before that. Where do you start tracking the trajectory of a thing? It’s hard not to look back to find Emily and I gushing over D.A. Powell reading “corydon & alexis, redux” for The Poetry Foundation and not think, “There.” And despite searching for ways to talk about it, I continue to call The Knox Writers’ House a thing. Part audio-archive, academic project, road trip, exploration of America (Maybe we’d like to live in the Twin CitiesSo this is what Baton Rouge is like…), part attempt towards understanding, part attempt towards appreciating the living writing in this country, part adventure with friends. It’s hard for me to know how The Knox Writers’ House looks like to other people, because for me it’s all tied up in the memories of it being made.

The list of things to check: laptop, Baby (the microphone), notebooks and pens, car keys.

The joke Sam and I said over and over when we neared the car before Emily: “The car’s been towed.”

Eating out of grocery store bags in parking lots.

Lon Otto. Mr. Otto was one of the first people I asked to participate in our project, one of the first brash, earnest emails I would come to write (emails that would include such gems of embarrassing honesty as: “I have come back to this book over and over since I first read it and it still stands in my mind as some of the best storytelling I’ve read,” and “I can’t count the number of times I’ve made people sit down while I read it aloud to them,” and “Every part of that book is a beautifully bottled thing that will fit in your pocket—a thing after which you are not the same.”). I had done a study of flash fiction a year before and Mr. Otto’s book A Nest of Hooks amazed me. I printed off “A Very Short Story” and read it to people at my job, between classes, at parties. I hung it on my fridge for Christ’s sake! And here we were, sitting in Lon Otto’s kitchen, drinking his coffee, meeting his daughter coming back from a run, waiting while he went to get something to read for his “Best Loved,” sitting absolutely still as he came back with As I Lay Dying and read, without pause, the entire chapter “Addie.”

The holiness of coffee. These were trips of momentum, ten hour days or waking, driving, getting lost, searching down roads and addresses, listening to gut-wrenching, intimate writing, packing up the car, and doing it all again. We were kept alive and awake only by art and hospitality, like pinballs slowing down, then hitting a bumper and being sent spinning on. Carolyn Hembree offering us coffee and when I say, “Black is fine,” her turning to Emily and Sam and saying, “How does he really take it?” and them telling her.

Being introduced to cities like few people are. Getting to know Kansas City, Tuscaloosa, Kalamazoo as bodies with maps of hearts laid over them pumping into the same system of art, of people trying to be understood and make something that matters.

Being understood. The Knox Writers’ House is a testament to many things and one of them is this: trust to be understood. Like the holiness of coffee offered by strangers and a writer you love making time to meet you, to sit down and read to you, to talk to you for an hour about her city and her work and where she is in it all, The Knox Writers’ House testifies that we are not alone. For every artist struggling to make something true, dying to put something good into the world, there are a dozen more hungry for the same thing, and ready to talk about it. We are all on a pilgrimage for the same reliquary and no matter what city, state, or block you live in, there are other hearts on this map waking up every day trying and fasting and pining for the same thing.

Francine Marie Tolf. I have to echo Sam in this. I remember sitting in the car, reading from her book,”from The Pleasure of Birds, An Audubon Treasury”?

“Sound and hearing

were tough to eliminate.

The most logical step

was to obtain some robins,

deafen them,

and then determine

if the birds could still…”

How could a heart like this exist and you not know it? How could a poem? The world is suddenly smaller and more beautiful than when you woke up this morning.

Emily and Sam. They will forever know me in ways no one else does: on a couch in Oxford with homemade biscuits and gravy, in the house of a burlesque circus worker named Emerald in Atlanta, dancing in New Orleans, hating each other and the world every other morning, giddy and overcome in the car in Minneapolis, rereading John Coleburn’s poetry off the computer paper copy he gave us, barely understanding what it was we were doing, seeing for the first time what was happening here, what was being given to us, and what it was we could make of it.

I hope even a fraction of this comes through in this strange, beautiful, holy thing we have made. I hope the smallest part of the love and wonder we felt making it and that I feel every day looking at it is there on the website for everyone to see. And I hope you enjoy listening.


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