Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

Our Souls at Night

Posted November 18th, 2015 by Tom

haruf_coverI ran across Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night while looking for something else at the library. It looked interesting so I checked it out. I’m so glad I did. A wonderful story about Addie and Louis, two long-time neighbors whose spouses have both passed away. They decide to begin spending nights together, not a romantic, sexual relationship, but companionship to overcome loneliness; someone to talk to and lie next to.

Talking about his wife, Louis says,

At least she’s at peace now in some other place or higher realm. I think I believe that. I hope she is. She never really got from me what she wanted from me. She had a kind of idea, a notion of how life should be, how marriage should be, but that was never how it was with us. I failed her in that way. She should’ve had somebody else.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself again,” Addie said. “Who does ever get what they want? It doesn’t seem to happen to many of us if any at all. It’s always two people bumping against each other blindly, acting out of old ideas and dreams and mistaken understandings. Except I still say that isn’t true of you and me. Not right now, not today.

A gentle story of two people reaching out and touching each other right in the heart. The author passed away after writing this book, before it was published. A lovely coda.

Dear “White” People, please read Between the World and Me

Posted November 5th, 2015 by Tom

CoatesToni Morrison says of Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s letter-in-book-form to his teenage son, “This is required reading.” As one who has been enculturated throughout my life to believe I am “white” I not only agree with Ms. Morrison, but believe Between the World and Me is required reading – in particular – for everyone who believes they are “white.”

His June 2014 feature in The Atlantic, The Case for Reparations, and The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration in October 2015, raised Coates high on my list of must-read writers. But Between the World and Me moved me like no other book has in a very long time. Laid bare within these 152 pages are truths of the difference between being “black” and “white” in the United States; the mortal threat to black bodies – male black bodies in particular. That the “American Dream” is a Dream by and for “white” people and a nightmare for “black” people. This is not how “white” people understand the Dream. We are raised to believe in the Dream; to seek and embrace it with enthusiasm and great effort. Also not obvious to those of us who believe we are “white” is the ultimate mortal danger that comes with the Dream to “white” people as well (though we are raised to be blind to that threat).

Between the World and Me, and my strong recommendation of it, isn’t about beating up on “white” people or making us feel guilty. It’s about remembering that which we are trained to forget. It’s about dealing with truth on a journey toward awareness; about breaking down barriers that continue to divide people from each other and from ourselves; from own humanity.

“The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free. In the Dream they are Buck Rogers, Prince Aragorn, an entire race of Skywalkers. To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans and, like all empires of humans, are built on the destruction of the body. It is to stain their nobility, to make them vulnerable, fallible, breakable humans.”

Coates tells his son he doesn’t believe they can stop people like me; like those of us who believe we are “white”…

“…because they must ultimately stop themselves. And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom… Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all.”

The first reaction of many “white” people to the message of Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of defensiveness; an opening statement that too often begins with something like, “Yeah, but…”

Please don’t succumb to the urge to argue, rationalize, or “Yeah, but…” without having first read Between the World and Me. By reading this harrowing, enlightening, and important work, I believe those of us who believe we are “white” will gain a new and critically important perspective on what it means to be “black” and what it means to be “white” in the United States of America today – and the roles we play in perpetuating injustice and mortal danger to us all.

The Beloved Community

Posted July 31st, 2015 by Tom

CTTT logoFor the past two and a half years I have worked for a non-profit organization I’ve been part of since it was formed almost 10 years ago. Coming to the Table is a committed and growing group of people providing leadership, resources and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.

TheChildrenI’m currently reading The Children by David Halberstam and today read a statement by which Civil Rights Icon, and U.S. Congressman, John Lewis was profoundly moved. “The Beloved Community” jumped out at Lewis in the early 1960’s. “The Beloved Community” jumped out at me from the page of this powerful book today.

From The Children – “It was not a utopia, but it was a place where the barriers between people gradually came down and where the citizenry made a constant effort to address even the most difficult problems of ordinary people. It was above all else an ever idealistic community. It became a permanent part of Lewis’s vision of what he believed he was working toward.”

I’ve been involved with Coming to the Table for the past decade because I have witnessed the barriers between people gradually come down. I have witnessed folks making a constant effort to address the most difficult problems of ordinary people. In the most difficult times and circumstances that can lead to hopelessness, Coming to the Table gives me hope.

I encourage my friends and readers to spend time at the website (here), to follow Coming to the Table on Twitter (here), and consider joining the very active Facebook page (here).

Together we can build The Beloved Community.

 

Closing lines from books that changed my life

Posted December 6th, 2014 by Tom
Painted Steps

Andi’s Painted Steps

There are times when I am “stuck” in my own writing for various reasons, but I always read. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading a book. I read for the joy of the story. I read to enter other worlds. I read to inspire my own writing. Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin for a writer. Both are requirements for the job.

Since August I’ve participated in The Painted Steps, a small group of writers who have committed to working together for six months, to inspire each other to keep our writing at the forefront of our daily lives, and to complete the first draft of a manuscript by the end of January. We meet via video conference every week. The Painted Steps is the brainchild of Andi Cumbo-Floyd, author of The Slaves Have Names. Over the past couple weeks Andi asked us to share some favorite “opening lines” in books and then “closing lines.” The “opening lines” was easier. “Call me Ishmael.” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” “I am an invisible man.” Choosing closing lines to share with my fellow writers took more time; more thought.

The successful ending of a story not only offers a conclusion. Successful endings offer beginnings to further contemplation of what has gone before and imaginings of what’s next. What follows are the closing lines from ten books that have had a profound impact on my thinking; on how I view the world. I hope these lines don’t ruin these stories for anyone who has not read them. I don’t believe they do. hopefully they inspire you to read… Read the rest of this entry »

Give BOOKS for the holidays! Save $$$ and support a Great Cause!

Posted November 22nd, 2014 by Tom

Christmas 2014bGIVE BOOKS!

SAVE MONEY!

SUPPORT A GREAT CAUSE!

This Holiday Season, you can give copies of Gather at the Table, or Inheriting the Trade, books from the King Legacy Series, the powerful An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (which I recently reviewed) or virtually ANY book published by Beacon Press to your friends, family, and professional colleagues and you will SAVE MONEY and SUPPORT HEALING in the United States!

My publisher, Beacon Press, has partnered with the non-profit organization Coming to the Table, for which I work as Executive Director, to offer this special. Order as many books as you want directly from Beacon Press. When you go to your “Cart” to check out, enter  CTTT in the “Coupon or Promotional Code” box in the upper left corner and click the “Apply” button. You will receive:

BeaconBooks

(click image to enlarge)

  • 20% discount on your full order

  • FREE shipping

  • and Beacon Press will donate 10% of ALL SALES to Coming to the Table

Make a positive difference in the reading lives of those around you, and in everyone who is served by Coming to the Table! I wish you a joyous and blessed holiday season. Let’s join together in working toward more Truth, Justice, Mercy, and Peace in 2015!

Thank you,

                           — Tom

All The Light We Cannot See

Posted November 2nd, 2014 by Tom

Painted StepsI’m in the midst of participating in a writing group called The Painted Steps that will last six months; concluding the end of January. I love participating in this group with several people committed to writing and supporting each other in our widely varied efforts. We hail from across 12 time zones, from the West Coast of the U.S. to the United Arab Emirates.

My new friend Jolandi (who lives in the UAE) recommended Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See a few weeks ago. Jolandi’s taste – and her timing, as it turns out – is impeccable.

Next week I’ll be at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, taking the advanced STAR II training (Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience) through the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding. All The Light We Cannot See is a perfect precursor. Read the rest of this entry »

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Posted October 23rd, 2014 by Tom

IndigenousPeoplesHistoryI am a lucky guy to have my books published by Beacon Press. I’m proud to be in the company of such distinguished authors as Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, Cornel West, Mary Oliver and Anita Hill. I recently learned of another author with whom I’m excited to be connected through Beacon: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. I highly recommend her recently published An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

As an author and public speaker who works to dispel the myths of the founding of this nation in the hope that we might someday actually live up to the ideals espoused in our founding documents, I appreciate all efforts to shine a light on truth.

Dunbar-Ortiz does precisely that, page after page, from the perspective of the Indigenous people who lived on this continent for thousands of years before it was “discovered” – and then colonized – by Europeans. It is not pleasant to learn details of the centuries-long program of terror, genocide, displacement, and theft of the land that became what is now the United States. This is not a pleasant book to read. But it is an essential book – and eminently readable – for anyone committed to understanding truth from the perspective of those outside the systems of power. Read the rest of this entry »

My Salinger Year – a book review

Posted August 31st, 2014 by Tom

I read a review of My Salinger Year, by Joanna Rakoff, in Entertainment Weekly last month. Though I had a pile of other books to read, the review inspired me to reserve this one at the library. It came in the same time as two other books high on my ‘must read soon’ list, so I set it aside assuming I wouldn’t get to it. But I finally cracked open My Salinger Year two days ago, thinking I’d skim through it over the weekend since it is due back Tuesday and someone else has it reserved. Instead, the past two days have been a headlong dive into Rakoff’s book and Salinger himself.

MySalingerYearIn the late 1990’s, Joanna Rakoff, after leaving graduate school in her early-twenties and dreaming of becoming a published poet, gets hired as an assistant to the literary agent for J.D. Salinger. Though the events of this book transpired not so long ago, the times she describes feel like ancient history. Rakoff was hired during the last moments of the pre-digital age. She transcribed letters on a Selectric while listening to her boss’s voice on a Dictaphone with foot-pedal controls for playback and rewind. No emails. Just imagine!

One of her tasks was to respond to fan mail that came for Salinger. Though his last book, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, had been published in 1963, the impact it, and Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey, and especially The Catcher in the Rye continued to have on readers was profound. Stacks of letters arrived from teenagers, college students, World War II veterans, and others. The letters were by turns raw, heart-breaking, deeply revealing, grateful, poignant, and very personal to the writers. Rakoff was told to reply with a form letter that Mr. Salinger had instructed the agency not to forward any mail to him, and then toss the letter into the trash. She didn’t exactly obey the instructions. Read the rest of this entry »

The Most Important Journey of Cheryl Strayed, Author of Wild

Posted March 17th, 2014 by Tom

IMG_4658bI had the pleasure of being in the audience to listen to Cheryl Strayed in Bend, Oregon last night. Her appearance was part of the Deschutes Public Library Foundation’s Author! Author! series. After having spent so much of my time since Gather at the Table was published in October 2012 speaking to audiences across the country at schools, churches, museums, and other venues, it was fun and inspiring to listen to another author – particularly one for whom I have such high respect.

I read Wild shortly after it was published. To be precise, I listened to it on audiobook. I loved it so much that I then bought it in hardcover. Her story of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is of particular interest to me. The summer after I graduated from high school, three friends and I backpacked through the John Muir Trail from the base of Mt. Whitney to Yosemite; some 221 miles of the PCT. I dreamed of someday hiking the entire PCT from the border of Mexico to Canada, but it never happened. So what a treat it was to re-imagine my dream hike through Ms. Strayed’s wonderful memoir.

When it was announced that portions of the movie Wild would be filmed near Bend, I wanted to be part of it. Though I was almost 20 years older than the age of extras they were looking for, I hadn’t cut my hair for awhile so I fit the “scruffy” description pretty well. I took a “selfie” with a pine tree in the background and submitted my application. They hired me to be a “hiker” out near Paulina Lake Lodge, which was “dressed” to double for Kennedy Meadows near Sonora, California. I spent a day hanging out with the other “extras” and crew and, yes, the star and producer of the film, Reese Witherspoon; a pleasant and down-to-earth woman who wanted everyone on the set to be comfortable around her. We were.

IMG_4651I was excited when I learned many months ago that Ms. Strayed would be speaking in our town. I bought my ticket early on, and good thing I did.  The auditorium was packed; the first sold-out performance in the Author! Author! series. I arrived early and found a seat in the front row.

Listening to her talk about the death of her mother at age 45, her resulting tailspin into unhealthy choices in the use of drugs and sex to cope, and her decision to hike the PCT though she’d never done more than day hikes before, was by turns funny, sad, and compelling. Cheryl pointed out the most important journey was not the hike itself but the inner journey she was on; that her goal as a memoirist was to explore what it means to be human in such a way that readers bring their own stories into her story. This is the goal of every writer… to connect with readers on a human, visceral level. Cheryl Strayed did so in Wild, and she did so in person last night. And what a dream tale it was about how Reese Witherspoon read the manuscript over a weekend several months before Wild was published it, called and spoke with Cheryl for more than an hour, and immediately optioned the book for a movie- with the pledge that the film would be true to the book.

I donated extra in order to be invited to the private reception with the author after the main event. It was at the reception that I met and spoke with Cheryl Strayed, gave her a gift of Gather at the Table as my way of thanking her for inspiring me so. And though on-set protocol did not allow for a “selfie” with Ms. Witherspoon last fall, Ms. Strayed was happy to pose with me last night.

IMG_4673As someone who travels the country speaking to audiences in the hope that they will want to read and be moved by my stories, Cheryl Strayed’s success in getting her books into the hands of millions of people is a big inspiration to someone like me whose books have so far been read by thousands. Whether or not I ever write a bestseller,  Cheryl Strayed inspires me to continue to explore what it means to be human and to connect with my readers as I have connected with Wild.

Thanks again, Cheryl.

 

DeWolf to Participate in “Indies First” at Paulina Springs Bookstore in Sisters THIS Saturday!

Posted November 27th, 2013 by Tom

PaulinaSpringsSistersYou going shopping on Black Friday? Well, save your energy for Small Business Saturday; and particularly Indies First! That’s MY focus this weekend!

I was thrilled last month when I received an invitation from my friends at Paulina Springs Books to join them as a guest “author-bookseller” for a few hours this coming Saturday, November 30. I’ll be at the Sisters store beginning around 11:00am.

Paulina Springs has consistently supported local authors, including me, and has invited me to appear at their stores (to great turnouts!) in both the Redmond and Sisters stores when each of my books were published. Read the rest of this entry »

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry