Surfing in Far Rockaway, romantic obsession, and Moby-Dick converge in this winning and refreshing memoir
Winner of the Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction
Justin Hocking lands in New York hopeful but adrift-he's jobless, unexpectedly overwhelmed and disoriented by the city, struggling with anxiety and obsession, and attempting to maintain a faltering long-distance relationship. As a man whose brand of therapy has always been motion, whether in a skate park or on a snowdrift, Hocking needs an outlet for his restlessness. Then he spies his first New York surfer hauling a board to the subway, and its not long before he's a member of the vibrant and passionate surfing community at Far Rockaway. But in the wake of a traumatic robbery incident, the dark undercurrents of his ocean-obsession pull him further and further out on his own night sea journey.
With Moby-Dick as a touchstone, and interspersed with interludes on everything from the history of surfing to Scientology's naval ties to the environmental impact of the Iraq War, The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld is a multifaceted and enduring modern odyssey from a memorable and whip-smart new literary voice.
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About the Author
Justin Hocking is an avid surfer and skateboarder. He edited Life and Limb: Skateboarders Write from the Deep End, and his work has appeared in The Rumpus, Thrasher, and The Normal School. He is the executive director of the Independent Publishing Resource Center and lives in Portland, Oregon.
Read an Excerpt
OPHELIA, PART I
Late summer 2005 and everything's underwater. The news warns us that New York City could be the next New Orleans — flooded subways, ten thousand shattered windows. Lower Manhattan as the new American Venice, streets turned into canals, the seafloor studded with broken glass. The storms spin up from the Gulf in alphabetical order: Katrina, Lee, Maria, Nate. None make it very far north, not until mid- September, when Hurricane Ophelia ravages the Carolina coast, floods the Outer Banks with a foot of rain, and wreaks $70 million worth of damage.
On September 16, Ophelia arrives off the coast of New York. From far above she's your typical hurricane, a crown of cotton thorns. But down below, she thrashes the surface of the sea, capsizes ships in her self- destructive fury.
Like so many of us new to the city, she wants everyone to remember her name.
But even she can't handle the pressure, can't make it here in New York, and just days later Ophelia drowns herself in the North Sea. Her suicide's wake sends undulations of raw energy back toward Gotham. Smoothed out by hundreds of travel miles, this energy arrives in the form of perfectly shaped swells at Long Beach, Lido, Montauk, and the Rockaways.
Places that I watch obsessively, via satellite.
Curled over my computer at 6:00 a.m. in my Brooklyn apartment, I'm tracking the storm, reading the reports — Chest-high to head- high swells with sixteen-second intervals, excellent conditions, go surf now! — when an incoming text sparks my cell phone.
Waves look perfect, the message reads. We're ditching work. U coming?
It's from my friend Dawn, who despite working seventy-hour weeks in the fashion industry is a Texas-bred tomboy — she surfs any chance she gets, in any conditions, with a bad-ass exuberance that I admire. Having already called in sick, I step into surf trunks, load up my board, and swing by Dawn's apartment. She and Teagan are waiting on the curb in shorts, flip-flops, and hooded sweatshirts, their surfboards propped against a brick wall lashed with silver and blue torrents of graffiti.
We drive east, through Bushwick's drab cement grid, then arc over Maspeth Creek and English Kills — tributaries of Newtown Creek, a Superfund site spiked with ten million gallons of spilled oil — these ruined waterways like New York's trackmarked veins after a century-long overdose. Brooklyn spits us out into Queens, past cinder-block car washes and fast food joints and a cluster of graveyards: Linden Hill, Mount Olivet, Lutheran, and St. John — the only shards of green space for miles. Singing along with Teagan's collection of Smiths songs, we angle down into Woodhaven and Ozone Park, under crumbling subway trestles, past Indian restaurants and windowless strip clubs and cell phone stores, and on through Howard Beach's rows of seventies-era Italian banquet halls and seafood restaurants, all of it a blur in the borough's slow southward tilt to the coast.
We get the first tangy smack of salt water on the long bridge over Jamaica Bay; it's here that the pace of our conversation picks up, echoing our pulses as we approach the sea.
Teagan is sharp-witted, a fast-talker. Quick. So much so that she's been dating one of our mutual friends, Adam, without me knowing it.
"We've dated on and off for like six months," she says. "The problem with Adam is that, like most boys, he wants a girlfriend to take care of him, fix his problems, and deal with all his bullshit, but he also wants to sleep around with everyone else in the world. I'm telling you: men are all lost."
"I can vouch for that," I say. I'm suffering multiple variations on this lost theme at the present. For one: I'm in a failing long-distance relationship with a soft-spoken skater-girl named Karissa. I want her to still love and stay faithful to me, even though she lives two thousand miles away, in Colorado.
Then Dawn discusses her own chronic boy woes, and I follow up with my ex-girlfriend woes, until the conversation turns to work, another consistent letdown.
Like me, Dawn and Teagan are sick of working such long hours, cooped up in cubes. They envy our male friends, most of whom are professional skateboarders, artists, bohemians, under employed construction workers, over employed drinkers.
"Can you imagine any of our guy friends working in an office?" Teagan wonders out loud.
"Justin works in an office," Dawn reminds her.
"Oh, right," Teagan says. "How did that happen?"
I can't blame her for forgetting, for wondering. It's seriously incongruous with my career trajectory up to this point — backpacking guide in the San Juan Mountains; summer camp counselor on Mount Hood, Oregon; skatepark manager; creative writing instructor at a Colorado university. The fact that I work a corporate job on the sixteenth floor of a Midtown high rise both surprises and depresses me on pretty much a daily basis. A sad facsimile of my true self up there, wearing slacks, hunched in a cubicle, compulsively checking the internet surf report.
Finally: the toll bridge to the Rockaway peninsula, the long thin jawbone of Long Island.
I pay three dollars and fifty cents in exchange for a horizon that's lost to me back in the city.
We park and ferry our boards up cement stairs, across the wooden boardwalk, down to the beach. As we walk barefoot across morning-cold sand, the sky unfurls above us, reclaiming from the city all its stolen blue bandwidth.
This is what all the hype's about: perfect, sun-shimmering sets of head- high rollers coming in smooth, sixteen-second intervals, the ocean an endless stretch of blue-gray corduroy, the waves scrolling in silver and then peeling evenly into whiteness.
The best swells I've ever seen, anywhere.
But while Dawn and Teagan busy themselves with surf wax and wetsuits, I stand shivering on the sand, heart racing, not sure if I'm ready for hurricane-grade surf, though by this point Ophelia has been downgraded to tropical storm status.
It's here, as I stare into the stirred-up maw of the Atlantic, tuned in to its relentless, percussive crush, that the association finally clicks: these waves are the aftermath of a storm named after English literature's most famous drowning victim. The fifteenth system in the worst hurricane season on record, the result of warming seas, a warming planet.
I've come a long way in getting over my fear of the ocean, but I'm still new to surfing, and on a day like this the gnawing apprehension persists. I moved to New York City with a naive sense of enthusiasm and hope, but now that I'm actually trying to get my life together in this place with so many social undercurrents and financial riptides — now I'm spooked.
"Come on, Justin," Dawn says after I express my Shakespearean anxieties. "These are the best waves of the year." She pulls up her wetsuit zipper, stretches into a deep forward bend. Armed with her surfboard, she charges down to the jetty, where the swell thunders in at its tallest, most powerful point. I hang back on the beach, where part of me wants to drop anchor, play it safe, surrender to paralysis. But there's a deeper pull at work, a stronger longing to get up and get moving — to hazard the risk and follow Dawn down into the churning sea.
Meaning I ruminate to excess about rip currents, sharks, heights, depths, failure, the future, death by drowning.
Or I latch on to something or someone I want and spend years in fervid pursuit.
My obsessiveness encompasses the word's Latin roots: ob (opposite) and sedere (to sit).
Meaning I can't sit still.
I crave motion, action, momentum. Skating, paddling, peddling: without these all-consuming physical activities I become easily bored, falling prey to darker obsessions, anxieties, self-destructive tendencies. I need an obsession to give my life a central organizing principle, to feel something like a sense of purpose. To keep from turning on myself.
In grade school, it was breakdancing. Some modern dancers from the local community college gave lessons in our school cafeteria, teaching us the moonwalk and the worm. When the film Breakin' came to town, the best breakers were invited to perform a floor show in the local movie theater. The most exciting event of my childhood: a bunch of us white Colorado kids rocking parachute pants, red bandannas, checkered muscle shirts, all of us dancing down on the syrupy theater floor, busting body locks, King Tuts, and backspins for a captive audience of a hundred or more. In return, we got to watch Breakin' from the front row, free of charge — something I did ten or twelve times, the characters Turbo and Ozone my new heroes, objects of my movement fetish, imaginary homeboys.
One of my best moves was the wave. It started in my fingertips: they reared up skyward like spindrift, then crash-curled downward, the energy rolling into my wrist — cresting up through my elbow and shoulder — before flowing out my other arm, dissipating into air. Sometimes the wave surged down my chest, through my hips, and into my knees, then rebounded back up and out my chin — the body wave. I did this for hours at a time, restless as the ocean, possessed by its rhythm.
I never stopped moving, popping and spinning, dancing, to the point that my parents grew concerned and eventually exasperated, suggesting that I sit still, slow down, take up other hobbies, or even just read a single book, for Christ's sake.
When I was eleven, my father — another craver of motion — moved us from Colorado to La Jolla, California, where I took up body boarding. I was just graduating to surfing when we moved again, this time to the arid inland hills of east San Diego. No waves in sight, I started skateboarding — a skateboard being the perfect on-land vessel to satisfy my motion-lust.
In this case, the obsession lasts twenty-five years and counting.
My first job out of college was part-time manager of a skatepark in Boulder, Colorado. In the summers I migrated north to Oregon, where I ran the skateboard program at a summer camp on Mount Hood. I eventually went to graduate school to study writing, but also because more school meant more summers off, which in turn meant road trips to almost every skatepark in the state of Colorado, mile-long drainage ditches in New Mexico, bone-dry swimming pools east of L.A., San Francisco's precipitous hills.
The constant need for motion and change made my romantic life difficult. When my long-term relationships ended — partly due to my skateboarding addiction — I spent months and sometimes even years obsessing over the women I'd lost.
After grad school, I sat still long enough to put together a book, albeit one about skateboarding. Called Life and Limb: Skateboarders Write from the Deep End, it included a short piece of mine titled "Whaling," which detailed my Ahab-like obsession with skateboarding and the novel Moby-Dick.
In late May 2003, I traveled from Colorado to New York to meet with a potential publisher for Life and Limb; it was during this trip that I spotted my first New York City surfer. Walking down Christopher Street on my way to pitch the book, I saw him ascend from a subway station, up between green Art Deco lampposts, a surfboard tucked under his arm. There was something astonishing about it, like an ice climber on the streets of Los Angeles.
Standing there staring, I felt a subtle shift in the Gulf Stream of my obsessions.
I'd been skateboarding for decades but had gotten only a small, teasing taste of surfing during my teenage years in East County, San Diego. Like the majority of actual New York residents, I had no idea surfing was even possible here. Could you really ride the subway to the beach? If so, could you surf in the morning and hit the Metropolitan Museum of Art that same afternoon? The surfer and the idea of this underground hypermobility — between the city and the ocean, between the natural world and New York's endless cultural universe — were both signal fires, drawing me eastward.
My meeting with the publisher went well and led to a modest book deal. Afterward I celebrated with my close friends Paul and Natalie in Brooklyn. They lived in a massive apartment in a former button factory, a quintessential artist's loft with a rope swing in the hallway and exposed- brick walls covered with Paul's enormous, photo realistic paintings of violet horses and polychromatic light bursts.
The kind of place that makes a tourist think living in New York is nothing but fun times, nonstop art-making, rainbows and rope swings.
And as it turned out, they were looking for a roommate.
A few months later, just after my thirtieth birthday — despite the serious misgivings of my friends and family, and especially my girlfriend Karissa, who still had a year of school left — I pulled up the moorings of my life, packed everything I owned into my little Toyota pickup, made the two-thousand-mile trip from Colorado to New York City.
New York, the place that Herman Melville scholar and biographer Andrew Delbanco calls "that peerless school for the study of literary careerism."
I was banking on the skateboard anthology's success and planned to follow it up with a novel, but other than that, I had zero job prospects. In an existence defined by motion, this was both the boldest and the most senseless move of my life.
THE AUTUMN BOWL
Such dreary streets! blocks of blackness, not houses, on either hand. ... At this hour of the night, of the last day of the week, that quarter of the town proved all but deserted.
~ HERMAN MELVILLE, Moby-Dick
From a skateboarding perspective, the timing of my arrival in Brooklyn is fortunate. Some friends have just finished building an epic wooden skate bowl inside a semiabandoned warehouse on the East River in Greenpoint, a ten-minute ride from my new apartment.
My first evening in the city, my old college friend Kyle Grodin and I skate down Bedford, cut south at Kent, then roll through the desolate, post industrial border zone between Williamsburg and Greenpoint. A blustery September night; blue and green lights crown the Empire State Building, reflecting onto gray cloud cover like a dirty halo. The distinct smell of petroleum; a lone guy in a fedora and checkered Vans playing the trumpet on an abandoned corner; elaborate graffiti on every wall and water tower — Neckface, SARS, LES, multivalent wheat pastes by Swoon. The further north we skate the more bombed-out and abandoned the neighborhood becomes, until a row of massive, vacant warehouses rises up from the shadows. Smashed-out windows and crumbling brick walls, rickety catwalks spanning the upper floors, the entire complex tangled in razor wire.
Looming here on the banks of the Harlem River as it spills its poisoned guts into the Atlantic, these warehouses comprise the defunct Greenpoint Terminal Markets, a once-vibrant center of naval industry. Our destination was originally one of the largest nautical rope factories in the world. Months later, after I get a job in Midtown, I sometimes ride my bike to work along the waterfront in east Manhattan, right below Bellevue Hospital, where, from the other side of the river, this whole area has a severely decayed, third world look to it, like Beirut in the 1980s or San Francisco in shambles after the Great Earthquake.
Grodin and I enter the building through a creaky metal door that we have to heave open with both hands. The passage leads into a dismal stairwell littered with broken beer bottles, bricks, piles of soot. Then down a couple uneven steps into a shadowy open-air corridor with rusty fire escapes spiraling up into the dark between sixty-foot brick walls. Above us, a thin slash of starless sky; straight ahead, a narrow porthole onto Manhattan's vertical sea of lights.
The muffled rush of urethane wheels circumnavigating the bowl reaches us from down the corridor, a sound like an old roller coaster coming off its rails. We enter another doorway, then find ourselves in a cavernous brick warehouse with fifty-foot-high ceilings. A stairway leads up to the deck, and there it is: an immaculate wooden bowl, sheeted with a fresh layer of Russian birch plywood, like the hull of a well-crafted ship. Amoeba-shaped, it fills up every square foot in the huge space, one section transitioning right up an extant concrete wall, which allows skaters to traverse the bowl's boundaries and actually ride the old building itself. And everyone's whipping around at supersonic velocities, carving and grinding to a sound track of eighties punk rock — Iggy Pop and the Stooges, the Dead Kennedys — so fast that it feels like they're generating some invisible form of energy, like frenzied atoms in a particle collider.
Excerpted from "The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld"
Copyright © 2014 Justin Hocking.
Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
A Conversation with Justin Hocking, Author of The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld
From the title of your memoir, it's clear that Moby-Dick is a personal obsession. What is it about the book that fascinates you so much?
My true obsession began after discovering a critical comparison of Moby-Dick with psychologist Carl Jung's concept of the "nekyia," or "night sea journey." Another term for this is the "dark night of the soul." Moby-Dick is ultimately a very dark and tragic journey, but the main character, Ishmael, emerges as the lone survivorhe is basically reborn from the wreckage. That particular imageand the idea of Moby-Dick as an archetypal guidebook for surviving life's dark transitions and traumasreally stuck with me. My obsession became much more visceral and immediate in the aftermath of a traumatic robbery incident in 2006. I was living in New York City at the time, and started spending more and more time surfing out at Rockaway Beach, taking some dangerous risks, paddling out by myself way past sunset. I was in a precarious emotional state and making reckless decisions, which, as I learned, can have serious repercussions when you're dealing with a force as powerful as the ocean. Looking back, I realize I was in the midst of my own night sea journey. I had lost my life's narrative, to paraphrase Joan Didion in The White Album. So, more than just an obsession, Moby-Dick was like a narrative life raft for me during that period.
Beyond the personal, I love that Moby-Dick speaks to us on so many levels: political, environmental, metaphysical, philosophical, etc. Melville wrote it as the country was careening toward civil war. As scholar Nathanial Philbrick claims, Moby-Dick is an important book to consider as we strive to live up to the ideals set forth in our constitution, especially in the face of any number of looming catastrophes. Ahab and his crew on the Pequod represent what Ishmael calls "the all-grasping west;" they set sail at the beginning of a new era of corporate exploitation, when the concept of the sacred was superseded by an endless quest for resource extraction. Whaling was primarily about oil; whale oil lit the world and greased the gears of the industrial revolution. It was the original "Big Oil" industry. I felt that we missed many of Moby-Dick's important lessons about hubris and its consequences during the Iraq war. We continue to miss them now, as we consider completing the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast, and as millions of tons of plasticsdefinitely a petroleum productpoison the sea. We're in the belly of oil, and Moby-Dick has something to teach us about our predicament.
What inspired the unique structure of your book?
The structure was inspired partly by my admiration for poetry and the lyric essay. From these genres I've come to appreciate narrative that's filled with gaps. Many poetry collections are staged in cyclesa slow accrual of resonating images and voices and storiesrather than in a strictly linear way, and I tried to replicate this to a certain degree in memoir form.
I was also inspired by an idea that Jonathan Lethem discusses in The Ecstasy Of Influence, which is that, rather than an "emptying out" process, finding one's voice as a writer is more about fully embracing and acknowledging multiple sources of influence and inspiration. David Shields is another big proponent of literary collage and hip hop-inspired "sampling" that I find pretty thrilling. So, of course, the central influence for The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld was Moby-Dick. I tried not to simply ape Melville, but I did allow myself to feel liberated by what I found in Moby-Dick, which is that all things are admissible within the bounds of a single book: memoir, history, literary criticism, environmental writing, sports/adventure writing, humor, taxonomy and listing, stagecraft, etc. Moby-Dick is such an epic, polyphonic masterpiece, and it was exciting to let myself just riff off a classic work, employing multiple voices and modalities and digressions. The structure of Moby-Dick is comprised of a series of "dives" and "breaches": at times it dives deeply into the human soul, while other times it breaches the surface and expands infinitely outward, to expound on the intricacies of the whaling industry, the anatomy of the whale, cosmology, even a kind of early food writing in the "Chowder" chapter. So, interspersed with dives into my own deeply personal story, I also tried to expand way beyond myself by incorporating stories about my seafaring uncle, the history of surfing, ocean ecology, Jean Michel Basquiat's own appropriations of Melville's work, etc. I didn't want to tell a straightforward, linear story; I wanted to "tell it slant," so to speak. And I wanted it to be about much more than just myself, although my "nekyia" is what I hope gives the narrative its larger emotional arc.
What was it like learning to surf while you were living in NYC? Is there a large surfing community in the NYC area? What was it like to surf alongside skateboarding legend Andy Kessler?
I grew up in Colorado and California, and spent summers in Oregon during my twenties, so moving to New York City at age thirty was a shock to the system. I will always have a fierce love for that city, but the lack of open space induced a real sense of claustrophobia, especially at first. So discovering a place like Rockaway Beach, in Queens, was a kind of revelation. Just the fact that a designated surfing beach exists within New York City limitsand that it's accessible by subwayis still amazing to me. It was the one place in the city where I felt like I could breath, and where I could grasp a literal and metaphorical horizon. The waves are fairly manageable on a typical summer day, so it was a good place to learn. And the Rockaway surf community is intriguingly diverseit's not unusual to find Wall Street executives trading waves with kids from the projects.
I struggled as a writer in New York; there were times when I felt like the city was stripping me of everythingmoney, self-confidence. But now, having had some time and distance, I realize how many gifts New York gave me. One of the biggest was meeting Andy Kessler. Andy started skateboarding back in the 70s, before I was even born; he was a true east coast legend, on par with Jay Adams and the Dogtown crew in L.A. Given his background, he had a pretty raw, street-sharpened personality. But he was also one of the most purely authentic and generous people I've ever met. I spent quite a few weekends surfing with him out at Montauk, a place both of us loved, and the place where he eventually passed away, in 2009. Those surf sessions with Andy were honestly some of the best times of my life. The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld is dedicated to him.
We've just passed the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the Far Rockaway region that features so prominently in Great Floodgates. Have you been back to the region post-Sandy? How do you feel the hurricane impacted that region's surfing community in particular?
The last time I visited Rockaway was just a few months before Sandy. So much new construction and development was happening then. I wasn't able to make it back after the hurricane, although I did try to help with fundraising efforts via an article on The Rumpus. I don't think the storm had much of an impact on the surfing community, other than some surfers whose homes were flooded, which is no small thing. But you have to understand that Far Rockaway is lined with dozens and dozens of large housing projects and low-income buildings. Thousands of vulnerable people live there; they were by far the most affected. Surfers did play a small but significant part in the recoverythe New York City chapter of the Surfrider Foundation was highly involved. There was also the story of a young surfer named Dylan Smith, who, on the night of the storm, helped rescue six people using an improvised rope bridge and his surfboard.
How does your pursuit of extreme sports like surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding affect your writing?
On the most basic level, skating and surfing are deeply physical pursuits that keep me located in my body. I'm definitely captivated by intellectual lines of inquiry, but as a writer who also surfs and skates, I only have so much patience for the purely cerebral. I'm always trying to bring things back to the bodyto descriptions of sensory and kinetic experience, motion and flow, concrete and skin.
On the other hand, I find that the term "extreme," connotes a form of adrenaline seeking. And to be honest, I don't really like adrenaline. When I show up at a place like Burnside skatepark or a new surf break, my initial reaction is often one of pretty deep discomfort and fear. Some people enjoy that, but my body doesn't process it very wellit's almost like I have an adrenaline allergy. So the ritual actions of skating and surfing are a way for me to mitigate that anxiety, to move through the initial adrenalin rush, and hopefully to reach something more sustaining and centereda peak flow experience where you have a sense of being out of time, deeply focused and connected. I generally score pretty low on the bravado scale, but moving through this process over and over helped me build the courage to become a writer, which, when you think about it, is just about as perilous a choice as dropping in to a thirteen-foot bowl or paddling out in overhead waves. You put yourself at considerable emotional and financial risk, and there's absolutely no guarantee you'll make it. My fellow skater/writer Bret Anthony Johnston puts it this way: learning a single skate trick involves literally hundreds of failed attempts and a lot of time on the hard cement; the writing process requires a similar kind of obsessive persistence and willingness to pay some painful dues.
But I don't mean to paint a gloomy picture of these activities I love. The truth is that there's so much joy in all of them; that's what keeps us coming back. Beyond the fear factor, skateboarding and surfing are purely creative pursuits that, when practiced well, feel more like improvisational art forms than organized sports. There are generally no teams competing against one another, but there are strong and lasting communities. Especially with surfing, there's a kind of alchemical bonding process that happens between friends out in the ocean. Similarly, the process of writing Wonderworld, and then the opportunity to work and connect with the amazing community at Graywolf Press, has been one of the best experiences of my professional life.
Can you tell us some about the Independent Publishing Resource Center, which you head?
The IPRC is a magical place; I'm so honored to have been a part of it for nearly a decade now. The Center's mission is to empower individuals to publish their own creative work by providing them with access to printing equipment, technology, education and resources. We have a huge new physical location in Portland, Oregon, with nearly 4,000 square feet of public workspace, including a traditional letterpress studio, a screenprinting studio, a computer lab with five new iMacs, photocopiers, two classrooms, and one of the nation's largest zine and small press libraries. Anyone is welcome to join the Center and our vibrant community of writers, self-publishers, comics artists, and zinesters. The publishing industry is changing so rapidly, and the IPRC is at the forefront of an increasing intersection of visual art, books arts, and graphic design with literary pursuits. Every day I see members creating exquisite, handcrafted books, zines and comics; more than just publications, they're true art objects. I'm also excited to see quite a bit of cross-pollination of traditional and digital publishing, thanks to the IPRC's regular e-book workshops and Adobe software.
The aspect of the IPRC that's closest to my heart is our yearlong Certificate Program in Creative Writing and Independent Publishing, which I co-founded five years ago with the talented writer A.M. O'Malley. The Certificate Program is an inexpensive alternative to a traditional MFA; we offer a unique combination of graduate-level writing workshops with hands-on publishing and printing intensives, with optional college credit available via the University of Oregon. To serve people outside of Portland, we're also launching a low-residency version of the Certificate Program in late summer 2014; more information is available at iprc.org.
Other than Moby-Dick, what are some of your favorite books that inspired you to write?
One of my major inspirational and aesthetic touchstones was Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn. I'm attracted to writers who have themselves plunged into the metaphorical abyss, then emerged humbled but whole, and who can artfully recreate the experience in a way that brings the reader in very close, but also provides a little respectful breathing room. I'm thinking here of Lit by Mary Karr, Wild by Cheryl Strayed [Winner of the 2012 Discover Award (nonfiction). -Ed], Jesus' Son by Dennis Johnson, The Blessing by Gregory Orr, Half a Life by Darrin Strauss, The Aderall Diaries by Stephen Elliot, Oh the Glory of it All by Sean Wilsey. I also love adventure and wilderness books: Caught Inside by Daniel Duane; Into the Wild and Into Thin Air by Krakauer. And anything by Rebecca Solnit.
Who have you discovered lately?
I'm grateful to live in Portland, where there are so many excellent writers, and where the scene feels highly accessible and tight knit. I just read Kevin Sampsell's gift of an essay, "I'm Jumping Off the Bridge," from Salon.com, now anthologized in The Best American Essays 2013. I'm inspired by my coworker A.M. O'Malley's cross-genre experimentation; she's working on a hybrid memoir that's definitely one to watch for. I'm equally enthusiastic about Aaron Gilbreath's book-in-progress about the topic of crowding. And many of our current and former IPRC Certificate Program students are doing amazing work. While finishing te Program, the writer Michael Heald launched a small but ambitious company called Perfect Day Publishing, and later published a very smart and vulnerable collection of essays entitled Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension.
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