Windfall Reading Series: 2005

Windfall Archive

January 2005

Chris Chester and Marilyn Johnston Read January 18

On January 18, the Windfall Reading Series brings Chris Chester and Marilyn Johnston to the library to read. Their subjects– the ramifications of taking in a sparrow and the continuing effects of the Vietnam war on the family of a veteran– seem disparate but actually have much in common. Both writers are examining relationships and the ways our lives are altered by the company we keep.

Chris ChesterChris Chester‘s Providence of a Sparrow: Lessons from a Life Gone to the Birds is an eccentric, brilliant book that won the Oregon Book Award for non-fiction in 2003. It’s also won over many fans, including Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl, who lists Chester’s book in her best-selling Book Lust as one you should read.

Providence of a Sparrow goes way beyond ornithology. Chester’s devotion to the sparrow that fell from the eaves of his Portland home one rainy Sunday in June is remarkable for its intensity and breadth. Anyone who reads about the relationship between Chester and B-his name for the 25-gram bird-will become a more acute observer of the world and acquire a better view of the astounding consciousness of its creatures, especially the smaller ones.

Rife with historic and literary musings, the book showcases Chester’s encyclopedic mind as he ruminates on B’s behavior. As the bond between man and bird evolves, compassion blossoms into insight and self-knowledge. The personal stories you’d expect in a memoir are here, peppered with the scientific research and painstaking observations you’d find in a natural history book. Perhaps even more unexpected, but welcome, are Chester’s engaging wit and his willingness to reveal the bumps he encounters on his path to a newfound sense of joy.

Marie Winn, author of Red-Tails in Love, writes: "I never imagined that one of the most illuminating books about birds would focus on the lowly house sparrow! I envy Chester for writing so beautifully, for being so funny while having such insight into the human as well as the bird condition, and for conducting such a fascinating and fulfilling love affair-who cares if it is with a bird!" Ron Carlson, author of the short story collection, A Kind of Flying, says, "If Thoreau had not gone to the woods, but had instead invited a sparrow into his house, he might have written this book instead of Walden."

Chris Chester and his wife Rebecca, a belly dancer, live in Portland with 15 birds and two frustrated cats.

Marilyn JohnstonSalem poet Marilyn Johnston has been married to a war veteran for more than 30 years, and her poetry examines the ongoing and intrusive effects of war. The universality of this subject is undeniable: Will Durant calculated that, in the known history of the world, there have only been 29 years in which a war was not being waged somewhere. Johnston approaches war from a very personal angle, and unearths insights that shed light on this age-old topic.

In March 2002, at her urging, she and her husband, along with their daughters, traveled to Vietnam to retrace the places where her husband had fought during the war. The years before and after this trip are the subject of her poetry collection, Red Dust Rising.

Johnston’s poems often describe her husband’s recurring memories of war. These memories can be triggered by many things, such as fireworks or dust rising off a road. In "At Dusk in Dac To" she describes her husband returning to the spot where he nearly shot a boy who had snatched a grenade from his jeep and who then disappeared into a dust cloud of Agent Orange.

The Salem Statesman Journal put Red Dust Rising on its list of the ten best Oregon books for 2003, saying: "This small collection of poems about living with a veteran of the Vietnam War carries an enormous amount of love within its small frame. It also carries pain and the sort of insight that only poetry can offer."

Johnston is a relative latecomer to poetry-she began writing it in 1998. Making up for lost time, she’s won a number of awards since then, including the Robert Penn Warren Award, the Donna J. Stone National Literary Award, an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship, a Fishtrap Fellowship, a Barbara Deming Memorial Fellowship, and several first place awards in Oregon State Poetry Association competitions. Her work has appeared in CALYX, Poetry International 2004, Clackamas Literary Review, and over a dozen anthologies, including What Struggles Upstream and Poems for Marys Peak. Red Dust Rising was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Proceeds from its sale are dedicated to helping veterans from all conflicts heal from war.

Johnston works as the Human Rights & Relations Specialist for the City of Salem.

February 2005

February Windfall Features Judith Barrington and Tim Whitsel

The February Windfall has two treats for local listeners, so bring the remains of your heart-shaped box of chocolates to the library at 7:00 pm on the 15th to hear local poet Tim Whitsel and Portland author Judith Barrington.

Judith BarringtonJudith Barrington is an Anglo-American poet, memoir writer, and writing teacher. Her most recent book, Horses and the Human Soul, is her third poetry collection. Praising this book, Maxine Kumin writes: "Here are the horses of her English childhood and the outbreak of World War II filtered through family reminiscence, her coming of age, the disastrous marriage and her self-acceptance as a lesbian. Her voice is lyrical, her intelligence palpable throughout this book." Meg Daly, in Just Out, writes that "Barrington’s work, while often politically incisive and unflinching, also includes humor and delight."

Barrington’s Lifesaving: A Memoir was the winner of the Lambda Book Award and a finalist for the PEN / Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir and for the Oregon Book Award. Because of its practical, inspiring information, her Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art is widely used as a source and how-to book by writers and writing teachers. Her first two volumes of poetry are Trying to Be an Honest Woman (1985) and History and Geography (1989).

Barrington’s work has been has been published in numerous literary journals and in many anthologies, including Poetry Daily, The Daily Telegraph Arvon International Poetry Competition Anthology 2000, and The Bridport Prize 2003. She has taught writing at a number of workshops such as Centrum at Port Townsend, Washington, Haystack, Fishtrap, and Flight of the Mind, which she founded. She is also one of the founders of Soapstone, Inc., a writing retreat for women.

Timothy WhitselTimothy Whitsel‘s poems have a dense but improvised feel, as if you were listening to a jazz master working his way through strange territory on a familiar instrument. Listen for high notes on child rearing, dirt-digging, and a youth spent living in and escaping from Indiana. Hear low notes from a former life as a stockbroker in LA, a son who was a bit too prodigal, and a husband who’s not afraid to lay out the trials and rewards of a long marriage.

Whitsel is a fisherman, jazz fan, soccer dad, and former Windfall Reading Series coordinator. He’s active in the Lane Literary Guild, a member of local writing groups, and writes personal essays as well as poems. He earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Washington and has attended the Fishtrap writing conference in Eastern Oregon. His poem, "September Garden," was a finalist in the 1998 Glimmer Train open poetry contest.

Windfall readings are sponsored by the Guild, the Library, the Friends of the Library, the Library Foundation, and Lane Arts Council’s Cultural Services Division.

March 2005

Maxine Scates and Rob Whibeck Read March 15

The March 15 Windfall pairs two poets whose work examines the struggles of bearing witness and exemplifies the rewards of not giving up.

Maxine ScatesMaxine Scates, author of the prize-winning books Black Loam and Toluca Street," uses memory as a tool to dig in "black loam" of experience. Over and over, she unearths breathtaking truths with a sure hand, asserting that "living a life is remembering/ all you’ve forgotten." In poems that take sustained and surprising turns, she refuses to flinch or submit glib excuses for the accidents and mistakes that leave their marks on us all.

Scates’s poems appear in such journals as American Poetry Review, Crazyhorse, North American Review, Poetry East, and Prairie Schooner. She’s written essays and reviews for The Writer’s Chronicle, The American Voice, Calyx, and other journals, and for anthologies that include Liberating Memory: Our Work, Our Working Class Consciousness and Survival Stories: Memoirs of Crisis. With David Trinidad, she co-edited Holding Our Own: The Selected Poems of Ann Stanford.

Originally from Los Angeles, Scates has lived in Eugene since 1973. She has taught at the Northwest Writing Institute, The Mountain Writers Center, and Lane Community College, and been writer in residence at Lewis and Clark and Reed. She now teaches privately.

Rob WhitbeckRob Whitbeck’s original voice is just beginning to reach the wider audience it deserves. He has two collections of poetry, Oregon Sojourn and The Taproot Confessions. Western Cross, a CD of Whitbeck reading selected works from both volumes, was released in 2004.

Raised in Springfield, Whitbeck has spent the last two decades as a timber and agriculture laborer in eastern Oregon. Now he works a hill farm near Winlock in Wheeler County.

His poems have clearly been "steeped in the air and beauty" of a place remote enough to be largely bypassed by "the forces of aggression," forces that have "poisoned, killed, uprooted, destroyed and enslaved." Whitbeck works to counter the losses caused by the brutal extremes of modern life," and he does so in poems of stubborn truth and austere, haunting grace.

His poems have appeared in the Oregon journals Calapooya, Clackamas Literary Review, Hubbub, Fireweed, and Portland Review, as well as in national magazines and anthologies. Last year he won an Oregon Literary Arts fellowship and The Working People’s Poetry Competition.

April 2005

April Windfall Brings Five Poets to Read Their Work

It doesn’t take a meteorologist to know that April is a pretty month. Somewhere along the line it was declared National Poetry Month as well. That’s a cruel fate for this tender time of year, when folks might rather watch a sunset than sit indoors and listen to poetry. Lucky for us, though, spring evenings in Eugene are often soggy, and the poetry pickings on the local scene are truly enticing. The Windfall poets for April 19 embody an array of styles and viewpoints that are bound to delight and inform. The reading is from 7-9 pm at the library, in the Bascom-Tykseon Room. Here’s who you’ll hear:

Ben HubbirdEugene native Ben Hubbird is currently exiled in trendy southeast Portland, having sold out his home town for a taste of big-city glitter. His poems have appeared in Lightning Bell Journal and Denali, as well as on Lane Transit District busses as part of the Art in Transit program. In addition to writing poetry, Ben plays guitar in the folk-rock duo The Morals. He used to play in a number of groups in Eugene, including Mine 37. In his spare time he works a dead-end day job, which he valiantly risks losing by vowing to show up for the reading whether his boss gives him the time off or not.

Ce RosenowCe Rosenow is the publisher of Mountains and Rivers Press and the former co-editor of Northwest Literary Forum and Portlandia Review of Books. Her poetry, translations, and book reviews have appeared in journals in the U.S. and abroad. Her chapbook, The Backs of Angels. was published in 1998 by Tel-let Press in Charleston, Illinois; in 2004, Mountain Gate Press in Hillsboro, Oregon released North Lake, a collection of her haiku. Rosenow has done extensive research on the life of Gertrude Bass Warner, whose collection of Asian art led to the founding of the UO Museum of Art. Rosenow is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Literature at the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon.

Susan KenyonSusan Kenyon has spent her life in three equidistant places on the 120th parallels west and east on the prime meridian, which happen to be Eugene, Shanghai, and England. Her book of poems is titled Petal on the Tongue (Mellen Press) and she’s had poems published in Poetry and The Atlantic, among other literary magazines. Kenyon was a Director for the Great Books Discussion Program in the southwest and led workshops in Europe and at Aspen, Asilomar, Williams College, Lake Forest, and other places. She spent ten years as an Oregon farmer and was a technical illustrator ‘in another avatar.’ Now she writes poetry and paints with watercolors.

At one time, Jose Chaves lived in Bogota, Colombia as a Fulbright scholar. He taught Spanish and creative writing in Portland, and earned an MFA from UO. Chaves writes poems, short fiction, and non-fiction. His work has been published in Jeopardy, The Danforth Review, Buzzwords, The Caf Irreal, The Atlanta Review, Rattle, Highbeams, Recursive Angel, The Alsop Review, helicoptero, Brevity Twelve, CrossConnect, Vestal Review, and Exquisite Corpse. He has also published The Book of Brevity, a book of translations of Latin American flash fiction. Chaves currently teaches literature, imaginative writing, and composition at Lane Community College.

Joan DobbieBorn in Switzerland and raised in northern New York, Joan Dobbie has lived in Eugene more than 20 years. She has raised two children, co-edited a Eugene poetry newsletter (Poetic Space), and earned an MFA from UO. Recently, Dobbie became a grandmother to Dane, who lives with his parents on the Caribbean island of Tortola, a place Dobbie visits regularly. Her work has appeared in the anthology Looking For Home: Women Writing about Exile (an American Book Award winner in 1991), and in Fireweed, The Other Paper, and The Street Poets Society. She’s a long-time teacher of hatha yoga and poetry immersion workshops in Eugene.

May 2005

May Windfall Hosts Marjorie Simon & John A. Miller

On Tuesday, May 17, the Windfall reading features Marjorie Simon and John A. Miller in the downtown library’s Bascom-Tykeson Room.

Marjorie SimonMarjorie Simon’s poems are laced with the hard sparkle of a hummingbird’s determination to leave no bright throat unexamined. Her wit zigs and zags, by turns wry and self-deprecating. She finds her subjects in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, in memories of growing up in Brooklyn and North Carolina, and in her impressively wide-ranging imagination.

Simon is the author of two books of poems, The Long-Distance Oatmeal Eater and Adam & Eve, etc. Both books were published by Jazz Press. Her work was also featured in the chapbook Poets of Santa Cruz. Her poems have appeared in the magazines Art Life and Solo.

For more than two decades Simon worked as the associate editor of the much-loved and revered publication kayak, where she and her partner George Hitchcock helped many of today’s best writers reach their first audience.

Simon started out in her writing career as a book reviewer for the Louisville Courier Journal in Kentucky. She now lives and works in Eugene.

John MillerCorvallis resident John Miller is the author of four novels (Cutdown, Causes of Action, Tropical Heat, and, most recently, Coyote Moon) and a collection of short stories (Jackson Street and Other Soldier Stories). Miller’s story collection won the California Book Award for First Fiction in 1995. His short fiction has appeared in The William and Mary Review, North Dakota Quarterly, The Missouri Review, Crosscurrents, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and other literary magazines.

Miller’s fiction conjures a cast of unconventional characters that includes Vietnam vets, rural sheriffs, ecoterrorists, and easy-going lawyers. At least two of his novels also contain what one reader describes as "a very fully-realized cat" that plays an important role in the story. Miller’s dialog is sharp and entertaining, and his situations keep the reader engaged and guessing.

Publishers Weekly called Tropical Heat "a finely crafted, superbly written novel that deserves wide readership." The Chicago Sun-Times described it as "an old-fashioned novel that offers a fine, affectionate portrait of a small Southern town." Miller’s most recent novel, Coyote Moon: A Novel of Love, Baseball, and the Heisenberg Uncertainty, was described by Publishers Weekl as "a quirky romp through the mysteries of life, love, and science." Kirkus Reviews called Coyote Moon "some of the funniest sports spoofs since Ring Lardner. Superb." The book, a fine concoction for a spring evening, consists of equal parts quantum physics, humor, baseball, and trailer-park wisdom.

September 2005

September Windfall Hosts Gary Whitehead and Laurie Lynn Drummond

The Windfall Series gets its twenty-second season started on September 20 by hosting poet Gary Whitehead and fiction writer Laurie Lynn Drummond.

Laurie Lynn DrummondLaurie Lynn Drummond spent eight years as a police officer in Baton Rouge. For the next 11 years– until 2004–she taught creative writing at St. Edward’s University in Austin. This rare combination results in language that is tough and straightforward, yet surprisingly sensual and poetic.

Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You, Drummond’s first book, won the 2004 Violet Crown Award for Fiction and the Jesse Jones Award for Best Book of 2004 from the Texas Institute of Letters. Kirkus Review said Anything You Say is: "A superb debut sheaf of procedurals about policewomen… Drummond sucks us into ten stories…that hint at only the faintest suggestion of fiction."

Anything You Say explores the lives of five female police officers in Baton Rouge. Graphic and at times brutal details are juxtaposed against nostalgic memories of childhood, the loveliness of nature, and the spiritual connection that can arise in the presence of death. These are intimate, gripping stories that pull the reader instantly into the world Drummond creates.

Her website includes engaging bits such as: "Yes, it’s true she once tore a car door off, because of a cockroach, while in uniform. And yes, she once put out a call for help, ‘I’ve been shot by a dog.’" Laurie promises to reach full disclosure about these stories in the memoir she’s working on, titled Losing My Gun. She’s also working on a novel, The Hour of Two Lights. She lives in Eugene and works as an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon.

Gary J. WhiteheadGary J. Whitehead comes to Eugene at the end of a five-month Boyden Writing Residency in the wilds of southern Oregon before heading back home to New York. Gary is the author of The Velocity of Dust (from Ireland’s Salmon Poetry Press) and of the award-winning chapbooks Walking Back to Providence and A Cool, Dry Place.

Whitehead is deft at turning his observations of the natural world into metaphors that reflect aspects of human experience. In "Bats," he compares bats dropping from a barn’s roof to "a flock of birds trapped in black gloves." "Vultures at Point Reyes" ends by musing about "what we, too, must feel/ at the end: something else’s / hunger// accepting our own, the finder found,/ and a sweet sharpness/ to shake// the soul from our bones." Looking at his work makes it clear why X.J. Kennedy described Whitehead’s work as having "a keen eye for unforgettable details, a masterly command of the language."

His awards include a New York Foundation for the Arts Individual Artist Grant in Poetry, a Pearl Hogrefe Fellowship at Iowa State University, and a Princeton University Distinguished Secondary School Teaching Award. He has held writing residencies at the Blue Mountain Center, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, Mesa Refuge, and the Heinrich Boll cottage in Ireland. Whitehead is the founding editor of Defined Providence Press. He lives with his wife in the Hudson valley of New York and teaches high school English in Tenafly, New Jersey.

October 2005

Runciman and Bassett to Read in October

On October 18, Windfall welcomes Lex Runciman and Carol Ann Bassett.

Lex RuncimanLex Runciman, born and raised in Portland, has lived most of his life in the Willamette Valley. In his newest book, Out of Town, we recognize the natural world of the Valley–the Pacific, wild iris and camas, Douglas fir and blackberries.

But the poems are predominantly about memory–memories of his childhood and the childhood of his now-grown children. The memories are not always idyllic. In a poem such as "1958-1968," the poet describes years of family dinners while watching scenes of drought, catastrophe and war on television. Domestic details become universal in a world that Sherod Santos describes as: "…flooded with a pathos, … a delicious and familiar beauty that one sees in the paintings of Vermeer." Like Vermeer’s portraits, there is a clarity and familiarity in the poems to which we can all respond. Runciman’s other books of poems are Luck and The Admirations, which won the Oregon Book Award in 1989.

A co-editor of two anthologies, Northwest Variety: Personal Essays by 14 Regional Authors and Where We Are: The Montana Poets Anthology, Runciman’s work has appeared in several anthologies, including From Here We Speak, Portland Lights and O Poetry, O Poesia. He was adopted at birth. He and Deborah Jane Berry Runciman have been married 32 years and are the parents of two grown daughters.

Runciman is a professor of English at Linfield College, where he received the Edith Green Award for teaching in 1997.

Carol Ann BassettOne hundred miles west of Tucson lies the hottest, driest place in the United States. Carol Ann Bassett has traveled to this rugged terrain many times over the years to camp in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. "Here, my imagination is forced to break through the barriers of space and time," she says. "Here it is possible to descend into the bare bones of my psyche and look as deeply into myself as any place on earth."

Organ Pipe: Life on the Edge is accompanied by photographs by Michael Hyatt. Bill Broyles writes that the book is "short enough to be read and enjoyed, light enough to be fun, and yet provocative enough to be remembered."

Bassett covers a lot of ground while introducing readers to the park’s 330,689 acres. She describes the plants and animals, and the cultural heritage of Organ Pipe, including its missionaries and settlers, and the people of the Tohono O’odham and Hia Ced O’odham tribes who still gather cactus fruit each year during the "saguaro moon."

Like all fragile places, Organ Pipe is threatened by human activity, particularly by the Border Patrols who want to build an extensive set of roads along the park’s shared border with Mexico. Organ Pipe is a testament to Bassett’s love of this place and a lesson in the changes it faces.

Bassett’s first book, A Gathering of Stones, was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. She teaches magazine writing, environmental journalism, and literary nonfiction at the UO.

November 2005

Lois Rosen and Keith Scribner read from their work in the downtown library’s Bascom-Tykeson Room

Lois RosenLois Rosen’s book, Pigeons, now in its second printing from Traprock Books, evokes memories of growing up in New York. In language that is honest and intimate, poignant and at times painful, Rosen invites the reader to travel back with her to "my beautiful Bronx."

With an immediacy that transcends time, we are with Rosen and her parents at Loew’s Paradise theatre when she is molested by the man with the "big, dirty hand," but where she can’t scream because her father "could have a heart attack." We are there "On a block of working-class Jews," admiring Audrey Hepburn, "the princess we girls on / Elliott Avenue dream of becoming." And we are with her as a young girl during the first snowfall, singing "Frosty the Snowman," as the poem moves from the microcosm of her own little bed, her mother yelling for her to be quiet, to the macrocosm where: "Quiet didn’t exist / in Heaven."

A thread of loss weaves its way throughout the poems–the illness and death of parents, memories of the death of millions of Jews during WW II. Yet ultimately the poems are hopeful, even celebratory. As Christopher Howell says: "… to open Pigeons is to enter an old fashioned candy shop where the sweets bring on reverie so precise you can look, without your glasses, into that longing for the world as it was before you knew how it is." Rosen’s poems have appeared in Willow Springs, Calyx, Hubbub, and Many Mountains Moving. She won the Oregon Teachers as Writers Contest and the Oregon State Poetry Association’s Poet’s Choice Contest. She is a graduate of the City College of New York and the School for International Training. Rosen taught English as a Second Language for many years at Chemeketa Community College, and co-directed the Advanced Institute of the Oregon Writer’s Project at Willamette University. She lives and writes in Salem.

Keith ScribnerKeith Scribner is the author of two novels. The GoodLife (1999) fictionalizes a crime that made headlines in 1992, when a middle-class couple from New Jersey kidnapped an oil company executive. The New York Times named The GoodLife a Notable Book of the Year, and Tobias Wolff called it "a difficult and daring novel that keeps surprising you."

The GoodLife spins a dark yet comic tale that examines what pursuing the American dream can do to individuals, families, and society. "I wrote a lot of The GoodLife while living in Turkey," Scribner says. "As I look back over the novel now, some of the scenes that get closest to the American sensibility are the ones I wrote there. It must be because of the perspective I gained living in a place so foreign. With similar ends in mind, I’ve given an equal voice to each of the five main characters in The GoodLife, hoping each offers perspective on the others."

Scribner followed his debut novel with Miracle Girl (2003). Sue Phong, the deaf daughter of a Vietnamese woman and an African American soldier, turns a dingy Hudson River town into a media circus by performing miracles that fan the dispirited populace’s fading glimmers of hope. Tourists pour in, and John Quinn, a real-estate broker, finds his life in shambles just as he encounters the miracle girl himself.

Kirkus Reviews gave Miracle Girl a starred review, calling the book "a hard-hitting, at times sidesplitting tale of trust, temptation, and redemption."

Keith Scribner earned his MFA from the University of Montana and was awarded Wallace Stegner and John L’Heureux fellowships by Stanford University, where he taught creative writing for three years. He has worked as a carpenter, mucked oil tankers in the Gulf of Mexico, driven a taxi in Boston, and taught in Japan, Turkey, and New Jersey. Now he teaches writing at Oregon State University and lives in Corvallis with his wife (poet Jennifer Richter) and their two children.