Los Angeles Convention Center | April 1, 2016

Episode 126: Hugo House Literary Series All-Stars

(Jennine Capo Crucet, Natalie Diaz, Roxane Gay, Peter Mountford, Jess Walter) The Literary Series at Hugo House, Seattle's place for writers, features three writers and a musician, all performing new work commissioned by Hugo House on a theme - such as death, humor, or both of those combined. This reading features five former Lit Series stars reading excerpts from the works they produced for their respective events. The panelists also briefly discuss the joys and horrors of writing to a prompt, and what became of the work they produced for the series.

Published Date: July 13, 2016


Speaker 1 (00:04):

Welcome to the A W P podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2016 A W P conference in Los Angeles. The recording features Janine Capo ce, Natalie Diaz, Roxanne Gay, and Jess Walter. You will now hear Peter Mountford provide introductions.

Speaker 2 (00:32):

Thank you all for coming here. Thank you so much. We're still missing one of our people, people, but maybe she'll come running in. Thank you so much for coming. My name is Peter Mountford and I am the events curator at Hugo House, which is Seattle's place for writers. It's a writing center in Seattle and we have events, we do lots of events and we do classes and many other things, youth programming, and been there for 16 years or so. We have a series called the Hugo Literary Series, which is four or five times a year and it brings three authors together and a musician typically who all have to write new work to the same theme or prompt and obviously it's really difficult to put together, but we get these people together and they all write new work and they get up on stage and they read it and the musician plays the music and it's really fun and for me it's very stressful, but it's a great thing.

Speaker 2 (01:35):

And so we are going to bring some of these people who we brought for the lit series here today to read what they wrote. So the format is I'm going to introduce them. We're going in alphabetical order by last name and I'm going to introduce the authors before they read and I'm going to say what their prompt was when they came to write for us. A lot of these things have gone on to get published and appeared elsewhere in the world, and it's really fun to watch them travel throughout the world. Also, Nick Flynn was supposed to be part of this panel, but he sent me an email last week and said, you can't make it so if he's in Los Angeles though.

Speaker 2 (02:13):

Anyways, so we're going to start off without any further ado, with Janine Cap. I wanted to say first of all, her new book is awesome. She's going to be doing a signing today at 1230 at the McMillan Table booth thing, so I highly recommend you go there. 1230 for a signed copy of her book. It's Table 6 0 1. Now Janine Keo Cruset is the author of the novel, make Your Home Among Strangers, which is out last summer from St. Martin's Press. Her story collection, how to Leave Hialeah, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Prize, the John Gardener Book Award and the Devil's Kitchen Reading Award was named a Best Book of the Year by the Miami Herald, the Miami New Times and the List, a winner of O Henry Prize and a Breadlow Fellow. Her writing has appeared in Guernica, plowshares, epic and so on. Originally from Miami. She's an assistant professor of English and ethnic studies at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Janine's prompt when she came to Hugo House was on the subject of some like It Hot, which was sort of about global warming or that was the idea unless the people wrote about something else and she appeared with Nick Flynn actually and Rick Bass.

Speaker 3 (03:38):

Hi everyone. Thank you so much for coming to this panel because there's a million panels happening, literally a million panels all at the same time, so we feel very happy and honored that you guys picked ours. It is the best one. So you chose wisely. This was such a hard thing. They give you a year to write the piece or several months and you need every second of it because it's terrifying to write something sort of on command. And mine is odd for me in that I'm mostly a fiction writer and this was a piece of nonfiction that came out of the prompt. So this is an essay called Facts about Neil deGrasse Tyson. Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and the current director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. He was also the host of a television series Cosmos, A Spacetime Odyssey, which is the sort of reboot of Carl Sagan's Cosmos, a personal voyage from the 1980s because of his work in the media as what he calls a science communicator, Neil Degrass Tyson is considered by many people to be the next Carl Sagan, but Neil Degrass Tyson has a voluptuous mustache which contradicts this hypothesis as Carl Sagan was usually clean shaven.

Speaker 3 (04:49):

Neil Degrass Tyson went to Harvard but is somehow still very likable. He enrolled at Harvard despite Carl Sagan's intense efforts to woo him to Cornell. He chose Harvard over Cornell despite the fact that Sagan invited him to sleep over his house and what Neil deGrasse Tyson insists was a totally non-creepy gesture. In graduate school, Neil Degrass Tyson won a gold medal in a national dance competition in the category of international Latin ballroom style on Cosmos. Neil Degrass Tyson holds the keys to the ship of the imagination and it can go anywhere in space and time. I am not sure if this ship is real or just c g I, but if anyone has a ship that can do these things, it would be Neil Degrass Tyson. Neil Degrass. Tyson's original PhD committee voted to dissolve itself, that is the word they used, dissolve.

Speaker 3 (05:49):

I like to think of his committee as an airborne tablet being dropped into a glass of water. The glass of water is being by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Neil deGrasse Tyson's. Mother's name is Sun Cheetah. His father's name is Cyril Neil deGrasse Tyson seems young to me, but he is two years older than my mother. He's 57. Because of Neil deGrasse Tyson, I bought a Toyota Prius. Negras Tyson makes me want to make a difference and the commercials during Cosmos suggested that I should own both a Prius and a Samsung Galaxy tablet. These are steps one and two to affecting real change. So I am halfway there.

Speaker 3 (06:34):

I had a dream once where Neil deGrasse Tyson smashed my cell phone, which was not a Samsung model, so maybe that's why. Then with a wave of his hand, he put my cell phone back together. He pushed it into my outstretched palms and said, don't thank me, thank quantum mechanics. He said, call your mother. When I woke up, I did both things in that order, but my dad answered and said, Hey listen, we didn't want to worry you, but your mom's been shitting blood and so we've been at the hospital since yesterday. My mom did not die, but she almost did. And details of her illness sigh. This proves that Neil Degrass Tyson is watching out for me. It proves we are cosmically linked. He would laugh at my faith and remind me that we are all made of stars and isn't that an even more powerful story?

Speaker 3 (07:20):

Neil deGrasse Tyson is always asking about evidence and proof like he's some kind of science lawyer. Neil deGrasse Tyson is hot for a scientist, especially for a physicist. I have known approximately 35 physicists in real life. I have not known them in the biblical sense, not all of them. Most were just acquaintances though I was married to one for a little while and I did know him in the biblical sense somewhat regularly. I to rank these physicists by their hotness, Neil deGrasse Tyson would easily be in the top five overall and definitely in the top three men. I should specify that I haven't yet met Neil deGrasse Tyson having missed a possible opportunity to do so in the fall of 2013, in the fall of 2013, Neil deGrasse Tyson came to speak at the university where I used to work. He began his talk by removing his shoes, then proceeded to deliver his lecture in his socks, which were blue during the q and a.

Speaker 3 (08:18):

Neil Degrass Tyson used his cell phone to call Bill N, the science guy, Neil Degrass Tyson and Bill Nye the science guy are apparently best friends forever and this call was an attempt to prove this theory to the student who'd asked if the two men were friends. Neil deGrasse Tyson's lecture was not sponsored or endorsed in any way by that university's economics department, which gets most of its funding from a multimillion dollar grant that originates with the Koch brothers because of their generosity. The Koch brothers have the unique privilege of shaping the economics department in two ways. Textbook adoptions and faculty hires the most recently adopted textbooks for that university's economics. Courses either minimize the impact of climate change or in some cases deny it outright. These books were selected under the guidance of professors who hold endowed chairs gifted to that university by the Koch brothers.

Speaker 3 (09:11):

Representatives from the Koch Foundation acted as consultants for the hiring committees that conducted the faculty searches. The Koch brothers have similar arrangements with other American universities. The largest undergraduate major at that university is economics. The second largest is English. Physics is one of that university's smallest majors, so that's fairly typical of most universities as physics requires a certain kind of brain not often found in the general population. Not surprisingly, physics was the undergraduate major of a certain special. Someone named Neil deGrasse Tyson, whether or not Neil deGrasse Tyson's PhD committee's decision to dissolve itself was connected in some way to his ballroom Dance championship remains unknown in the long run, it didn't matter. Neil Degrass Tyson leaned his head over the glass of fizzing water in his hand and the effervescence of his dissolving committee nuzzled his ear lobe and he smiled. Neil Degrass Tyson believes our planet is heating up and that this is the fault of humans.

Speaker 3 (10:13):

In fact, Neil Degrass Tyson says he doesn't so much believe this as he knows it for a fact. Whenever Neil Degrass Tyson goes off on these tangents, I want to shake him and say, Neil Degrass Tyson, how can you choose to freak out over this when you have access to all those gorgeous pictures of galaxies and whatnot? I am sure Neil Degrass Tyson has an iPad or more likely a Samsung Galaxy tablet. One because it's called a Galaxy and two, because they are the major sponsors of his space show, and so it probably gave him one free I am sure Neil Degrass Tyson's Samsung Galaxy tablet is fully loaded with images from the Hubble telescope. I'm sure he has enough interstellar photos on there to Instagram one every 20 minutes for the rest of his life if he wanted to. When Neil deGrasse Tyson starts talking about how our planet will outlast us, how it's our own survival word jeopardizing, I want to send him a link via Twitter to that YouTube video of a pit bull saying, mama the one with over 2 million views that would help him relax about things.

Speaker 3 (11:13):

I know it helps me. I once spent $200 before taxes on a dog bed for my rescue pit bull because I thought the dog deserved it after having had a rough start to life. Also, he kept eating the cheaper beds and this expensive bed was well-made on a shelf. At Elliot Bay Book Company is a thick book that lists the carbon footprint of things including owning a dog or a cat. I don't want to tell you what I learned as it is not good and we all love our dogs and we would all rather just not think about it despite the fancy bed saying, mama is something my pit bull cannot or perhaps will not do. I acknowledge that this last fact was not technically about Neil Degrass Tyson. I can fix this. Neil Degrass Tyson owns a giant gray bunny named Ozzy. Ozzy has never emitted a sound according to simulations run on Neil Degrass Tyson, Samsung Galaxy tablet, the city I grew up in and in which my family still lives. The city of Miami will be more or less underwater in roughly 50 years. I recently mentioned this to my parents. They said, good thing will be dead.

Speaker 3 (12:22):

I am in love with Neil deGrasse Tyson. I am in love with his mustache onic and thick and cozy as a well woven scarf. I watched Cosmos even though the show scared me, even though whenever Neil deGrasse Tyson described how our planets formed or the wait time may or may not work, I got the strong but ultimately false urge to use the bathroom. I waited all week to hear him talk to me. He was talking only to me. I know this as a science communicator. Neil Degrass Tyson has a way of making every viewer think he's talking to them, but he really was talking only to me in this way and others. Neil Degrass Tyson is like a three D movie. Neil Degrass Tyson combs his mustache every morning after sipping a cup of tea with milk while on his back porch and then staring directly at the sun through a telescope.

Speaker 3 (13:13):

This action does not hurt his eyes because his mustache emits protective microwaves that block otherwise harmful radiation. This is partly why he was chosen to host Cosmos. Please note that this last fact is more of a speculation on my part, like my original Neil deGrasse Tyson dream where he broke and then healed my phone. This image of Neil deGrasse Tyson's morning routine also came to me in a dream and is likely true because I won stream the winning lottery numbers even though I never play the lottery and they ended up being right. My mother believes that God sometimes brings me visions and often asks me whether or not I've dreamed her death. I lie to her and say, no, my mother is a smart person, but she also believes the world is much younger than Neil deGrasse Tyson says It is it getting harder for me to believe both of them at the same time? Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn't know that. When I was in middle school I was forced by my mom to participate in an afterschool club that went around to Miami nursing homes and sang songs about the importance of recycling to dying old people.

Speaker 3 (14:13):

He would be sad to know that even though we sang both a ballad and a rap about how to sort your trash and your tin cans a aluminum too. I'm two. None of us in the group actually recycled because we couldn't. Recycling was optional in Miami-Dade County then, and so once the county realized that no one was participating, they collected all the bins and recycled them

Speaker 3 (14:34):

Because of Neil Degrass Tyson. I tried to get my parents to buy a Prius when the lease was up on their 2010 Escalade. We went to a Toyota dealer and I got my mother to sit inside the largest Prius model. I wanted her to feel excited, so I said, isn't it like sitting in a spaceship? I imagine Neil deGrasse Tyson at the helm of the ship of the imagination. Me there as this copilot, perhaps even holding hands, the two of us zipping together to the edge of a black hole closed the door. I said, but my mom shook her head, left it open. I just like being up high, she said, and through the windshield I heard my dad said what? She likes being up high, okay? They ended up just buying the Escalade outright as that made the most financial sense. Neil Degrass Tyson was not there the first time I watched my physicist ex-husband pull the plastic rings that hold together a six pack of soda cans out from the trash where I just tossed them.

Speaker 3 (15:26):

We'd been married maybe a few weeks, me and my ex, not me and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Not yet my ex grabbed a pair of scissors from a drawer and began snipping the circles open. I asked, why are you doing that? My ex is from Northern California and so sometimes did weird things like this or like looking up where it's okay to dispose of those curly light bulbs that no one in Miami uses or freaking out. When he caught my father pouring out used motor oil onto that one spot in the backyard, he reserves for pouring out used motor oil. It sometimes feels like my ex and I were raised on different planets. He kept smiling and said, birds get their heads stuck in these rings and can strangle themselves or choke. I almost brought up Neil deGrasse Tyson. I almost said, what if all this is just a new kind of natural selection?

Speaker 3 (16:12):

Maybe the smarter birds won't stick their heads through the strange holes. The smarter ones will avoid our piles of trash and instead fly north and stay there because soon they won't have to waste energy flying south for the winter or they will learn to strategically shit on the windshield of our various Prius models and cause us to crash and turn the system back on us. I wanted to use Neil deGrasse Tyson against Neil deGrasse Tyson. I want to think the smarter ones will beat the rings that the smart ones will find us a way out and at least one version of the infinite realities brought to us by quantum mechanics and the generous support of Samsung. Can't we depend on the smart ones to figure it out and survive? I want to ask Neil Degrass Tyson what to do if there's anything we can really do short of creating a legion of neo degrass Tysons all armed with very advanced Samsung galaxies not yet available to the general public.

Speaker 3 (17:05):

I want to say to Neil deGrasse Tyson, you're Neil Degrass fucking Tyson. Can't you fix this? You of all people know how short 50 years is. You said so while standing on your calendar of the cosmos, it is not even 100th of one 100th of something. I can't even understand that, but you can and if you can't help my parents' house stay above sea level for much longer, who can? Regardless of whether or not we want to admit it, we are depending on the Neil deGrasse Tysons. We are waiting for them to materialize to reconstitute themselves like airborne tablets in reverse every day. I tweet my love to Neil deGrasse Tyson via our galaxies, but he has 5 million followers and so I think he doesn't hear me. I can't let this worry me. I wait. I snip rings and sort garbage. The only things I can do. In the absence of a reply, I'm waiting for him to direct message me with some good news. But I think Neil deGrasse Tyson already knows what's coming. He just doesn't want to tell us what he's already seen from the helm of his ship of the imagination that there is only one Neil deGrasse Tyson, and so we are all doomed.

Speaker 2 (18:28):

I'm very excited to bring up our second reader. Natalie Diaz is a member of the Mojave and Pima Indian tribes attended Old Dominion University on a full athletic scholarship. Athletic athleticism here is quite remarkable. After playing professional basketball in Austria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Turkey, she returned to O D U for an M F A in writing. Her poems have appeared in many wonderful magazines and her work was selected by Na Natasha Trethaway for best new poets and she has received the Nimrod Hardman Pablo Neruda prize for poetry. Her first book when my brother was an Aztec, was published by Copper Canyon Press and won a 2013 American book award. Natalie's prompt when she came to Hugo House was must the gun always fire. It was sort of about literary cliches and she appeared with Anthony dor and Karen Finney frock. Please welcome.

Speaker 4 (19:40):

I was a little bit worried about the prompt because I'm well, I'm native and Latina and of course these white guys gave me this prompt with a gun going off, so I wasn't really sure what to do about it. I was really grateful for the prompt. I kind of like writing under constraints. I need deadlines, otherwise I just watch Netflix and drink scotch all day. It's amazing to me how many of you I saw out past 2:00 AM last night and you look like you feel a lot better than I do right now. So the prompt for me was really important because it actually kind of spurred some of the poems that are in my second book and it was less the idea of must the gun go off, but the idea of what if the gun didn't go off, and so I kind of took it as a prompt to really explore this idea of violence and tenderness. So I'm going to read a series of love poems that have sprung from there, but this is the actual poem that came from that prompt.

Speaker 4 (20:44):

It's a hustle form. Powdered unicorn horn was once thought to cure melancholy. The cure for melancholy is to take the horn. What carries the hurt is never the wound, but the red garden sewn by the horn as it left and she left. I am rosing blooming absence. It's brilliant rum Brodsky said Darkness restores what light cannot repair. You thrilled me opened to the comb. Oh wizard, oh wound. I want the ebb and bull and the moon. I've come for the honeyed horn. Queen Elizabeth traded a castle for a single horn surrender to the kingdom of my hands, army of touch marching upon the al Qar of your thighs like bright horns. I arrive at you half bestia, half feast. Tonight we harvest the luxed forest of Carreras name the dark full fruit spicing our mouths separate sweet from thorn lanterns in your wicked palm, the bronzed lamp of my breast. Strike the sparker. Take me with tremble into your lap. Let me lay my heavy horns. I fulfilled the prophecy of your throat loosed in you, the fabulous wing of my mouth. Red, holy, red ghost. I spoke to God, return to you feathered, seraphim and horned. Our bodies are nothing if not places to be had by as in God. She has me by the throat, by the hip bone, by the moon God. She has me by the horn.

Speaker 4 (22:43):

Those mms, you say horn or ash or dark. It's like she has me by the ash. So again, this kind of spurred this idea of what does my love poem look like? What does my native, my Latina, my desert love poem look like? And so in my new book I have these series of poems called Post-Colonial Love poems. So I wrote them about when I dated white women. That was like last night post-colonial love poem. I've been taught blood stones can cure a snake bite can stop the bleeding. Most people forgot this when the war ended, the war ended depending on which war you mean those we started before those millennia go and onward those which started me, which I lost and won these ever blooming wounds. I was built by wage, so I wage love and worse always. Another campaign to march across a desert night for the cannon.

Speaker 4 (24:03):

Flash of your pale skin settling in a silver lagoon of smoke at your breast. I dismount my dark horse bend to you there deliver you the hard pool of all my thirsts. I learned Drink in a country of drought. We pleasure to hurt. Leave marks the size of stones each acabo polished by our mouths I, your lapidary, your lapidary wheel turning green, modeled red, the Jaspers of our desires. There are wild flowers in my desert, which take up to 20 years to bloom. The seeds sleep like geodes beneath hot fel spar sand until a flash flood bolts the arroyo, lifting them in its copper current opens them with memory. They remember what their God whispered into their ribs. Wake up and ache for your life where your hands have been. Our diamonds on my shoulders, down my back thighs. I am your culebra. I am in the dirt for you.

Speaker 4 (25:13):

Your hips are quartz, light and dangerous. Two roses horned rams ascending a soft desert wash before the November sky un yolks a hundred year flood. The desert returned suddenly to its ancient sea, a rise the wild heliotrope scorpion weeded blue flia which hold purple the way a throat can hold the shape of any great hand, great hands is what she called mine. The rain will eventually come or not until then. We touch our bodies like wounds. The bell bruises fingers ring against the skin are another way to bloom. The war never ended and somehow begins again. Quran scorpion cut. So you're hearing a lot of light that's starting to happen and it really started to crack open and shape my book. So I'm going to read two more poems. Alacran scorpion cut.

Speaker 4 (26:20):

My brother has a knife in his hand. He has decided to stab my father. This could be a story from the Bible if it wasn't already a story about stars. I weep laces the scorpions c clatter to the floor like yellow metallic scissors. They land upside down on their backs and eyes, but and flip to their segmented bellies. My brother has forgotten to wear shoes again. My scorpions circle him whip at his heels in them is what stings in me. It brings my brother to the ground. He rises still holding the knife. My father ran out of the house down the street crying like a lamp lighter but nobody turned their lights on. It is dark. The only light left is in the scorpions. There's a small light left in the knife too. My brother now wants to give me the knife. Some might say my brother wants to stab me. He tries to pass it to me like it is a good thing. Don't you want a little light in your belly like the way Orion and scorpius across all that black night pass the sun. My brother loosens his mouth between his teeth throbbing red and Terry's one way to open a body to the stars with a knife. One way to love a sister help her bleed light.

Speaker 4 (27:56):

Yes, there are a couple of little, I got one snapper over here, but thank you. It's pretty awesome to be with this gang of people. I have their books on my bookshelf, so it's really nice. And again, Hugo House has been so supportive of my work of native work, a very wide range of voices and stories, so I'm really grateful. So thanks for having the new grief work.

Speaker 4 (28:27):

We wander the banks of it astonished. Give up our sorrows the way a bull gives its horns. Wishing there is rest in the body's softest parts. Camino gaze, the black flower blooming her animal eye. Why not now go toward the things I love. Like Jacob's angel, I touched the garnet of her hip and she knew my name and I knew hers. It was Omo, it was omoro, it was Eliza. When the eyes and lips are brushed with honey, what is seen and said will never be the same. So why not take the apple in your mouth on flame in pieces straight from the knife. Sharp edge, Achilles chased Hector around the walls of ileum three times. How long must I circle the high gate between her hip and knee to solve the red gold geometry of her thigh? Again, the gods put their large hands in me, move me, break my heart like a jug of wine.

Speaker 4 (29:36):

Loosen a beast from some dark long depth. My melancholy is hoofed I the terrible, beautiful lampo, a shining devour horse tethered at the bronze manger of her collarbone. I do my grief work with her body labor to make the emerald tigers in her throat leap lead them burning green to drink from the deep violet jetting her breast. We go where there is love to the river on our knees beneath the sweet water. I pull her under four times until we are river, we are rearranged. I wash the silk and silt of her from my hands Now who I come to. I come clean to I come. Good to. Thank you.

Speaker 5 (30:35):

Thank you.

Speaker 2 (30:37):

It's now our third reader, Roxanne Gay is the mindbogglingly prolific author of 1 million, exactly 1 million today. Reviews, essays, think pieces and everything under the sun. Her work has appeared in every magazine and newspaper. Do you actually have a resume where you can keep track of it?

Speaker 6 (31:03):

Yeah, I do. That's

Speaker 5 (31:04):

Lot of work.

Speaker 6 (31:06):

I do teach

Speaker 2 (31:07):

And teach and everything else. Some of the places Best American mystery stories. 2014 Best American Short stories. 2012 best sex writing 2012 a public space, MCs, Sweeney's, tin House, Oxford American, and very frequently in the New York Times and so on. Just on and on and on. It's amazing. She was also on top of that. Also a teacher in Man of Things, but she is also in an editor and she was also the author of the books at and Untamed State Bad Feminist and the new book Hunger, which is forthcoming from Harper in June

Speaker 6 (31:39):

This summer.

Speaker 2 (31:40):

This summer. It doesn't have to say. Yeah, this is soon at some point. And Roxanne, when she came to the lit series, her prompt was People will talk and she appeared with Carrie Wasson and Richard Bosch.

Speaker 6 (31:59):

I'm going to be a rebel and do mine from here. I hate prompts and so which, hi, my students are here so I'm sure I give them prompts all the time. Suck it up. So I was thinking about what the fuck people will talk and so I wrote a story called Men on Bikes the Way it's being talked about in the papers. You'd think men in town had grown wings and all flown away. Better yet you would think they would've done something that we could all be proud of. The news has been on the front page nearly every day for as long as I can remember. Nowadays we just turn to the second page to hear tell of the rest of the world because the front page that's reserved for our men and what they've gotten up to. No headlines about war or the economy or whatever politicians are doing nothing like that.

Speaker 6 (32:50):

Instead all day, every day. The front page and most of the pages following that are talking about how eventually every man in town ended up on a bicycle. This doesn't seem like something people should be talking about. There's nothing new or interesting about men on bicycles. I suppose it's the drinking that got everyone riled up and righteous. I was playing poker with some of the other wives and having quite a good go of it, a healthy stack of chips in front of me, an ace and a king of hearts in my hand and two ACEs shown on the flop. They were talking about how they were losing their husbands to bicycle maintenance and such. It's the craziest thing. Lots of talk about gears and break hoods and spokes and forks. It was like the men decided that because they were riding bikes, they were now bicycle experts.

Speaker 6 (33:38):

There was even a new section in the paper, 10 weekly tips for keeping your bicycle in tiptop shape. It started with Dean Shavers the first to lose his job at the plant. He had seven kids all under the age of 10 and sitting at home with those kids sticky and crawling or running around him as he sat on the couch watching his shows, it was maddening. The only time he had a moment's peace was after the older kids went to school and the younger kids went down for a nap and the quiet of that precious hour or two, he cradled warm cans of beer and the palm of his hand taking slow careful sips until when the younger kids woke up and when the older kids came home, their furious energy dulled into something much more manageable. Then his wife, Marnie's car broke down and there was no money to fix it, so he had to take her to work and pick her up every day.

Speaker 6 (34:27):

Marni still worked at the plant because she had nimble fingers and was real good with machines. It was like she understood them. Her supervisor said during Marnie's annual review, Dean was mostly sober each morning when he took Marni to work. But in the evening when he was well into his case of Coors Light, his expanding guts, soft and pliable against the steering wheel, he had a hard time finding his way to the place he had worked for nearly 19 years. Marni mostly didn't say anything. Dean was a lazy drunk, but he never got coarse with her or catted around with Barflies. Marni also knew men had their way with sorrow. It wasn't her place to get in the way of all of that. Sometimes as they lay in their bed, their baby's breathing warmly in their own rooms. Marni would sigh as Dean sweated the beer.

Speaker 6 (35:13):

He spent all day drinking the air in their small bedroom thick with yeast. She would say, this is not what we promised each other and Dean would just grunt and roll over. That night was their anniversary. After Dean picked Marni up from work. They went to the penalty box for dinner and drinks. While Marnie's sister stayed home with the kids, Dean wore a clean pair of khakis and his favorite bowling shirt. Marni changed in the locker room at work and wore the only nice dress she owned. Black simple lines, low scoop neck. Dean whistled. When Marni slid into the car and leaned in to kiss her husband, he drew her clothes for a wet boozy kiss. Whispering, you are going to get it tonight after. Oh, that Dean Marni crossed her legs and laughed. We'll see how long you stay awake. Big boy. Most of their friends were at the penalty box. There weren't too many options in town. On a Friday night after greasy burgers, Marni started playing pool with Belinda Rucker, who went by Bindi and was the sexiest woman in town. When she leaned over the pool table, her cue aimed carefully at a corner pocket. Dean sat at the bar with bindis husband Tucker Tucker Rucker, who went by Tucker and had also been laid off from the plant.

Speaker 6 (36:34):

It was slate, so they shifted quietly from beer to gin to whiskey, giggling like little boys. Each time the bartender set fresh drinks in front of them. She was young and had perky breasts that seemed to wink as they swayed lightly beneath her tight t-shirt, Dean and trucker talked about the terrible coffee at the unemployment office and the videos. They were forced to watch each week teaching them about career paths they might pursue. Office work, phlebotomy, sanitation. My fingers are too damn big for most work. Dean slurred and trucker nodded. They were both men with very big hands. They could palm a bowling ball with room to spare my last call, Dean could barely keep his eyes open. They were roomy. He leaned heavily against Marni as they walked to their car listing from side to side. She tried to take the keys from her husband, but he had a lot of pride. I am a man, he said, and I am going to drive my woman home where I am really going to give it to her.

Speaker 6 (37:33):

Marni rolled her eyes. She knew that the only thing Dean was going to give her was a hard time. As she rolled him into bed and tried to undress him, she knew exactly where the night was headed. They had been down this road before Marni tried again for the Keys, but Dean spun away and stumbled. Marni shouted, you're not killing me tonight. Pulled her coat around her and began walking home. While Dean tried to fit the key into the lock, she took her time muttering to herself about their worst anniversary yet and planned on telling Dean when he finally made it home that they might not see there next in the morning. Marni slowly opened her eyes and realized she was in bed alone. The house was quiet, which immediately set her on edge. She patted into the living room where five of her children were sitting in front of the television.

Speaker 6 (38:20):

Dean was nowhere to be found. It was several hours later when she finally checked her phone and found several increasingly frantic messages from Dean begging her to come down to the police station to bail him out because the pigs had pulled him over, not even a away from the bar. Marni would've left, but she knew they could hardly afford whatever the bail would be and then there would be a lawyer and who knows what else. She went on the back porch and lit a cigarette ignoring the stern look of deuce approval from her children. Their greasy faces pressed to the glass door. He can sit there for a while longer. She thought it was a warm day. The sky was clear. She enjoyed the sun on her arms for three cigarettes and went down to the police station only when she was good and ready.

Speaker 6 (39:05):

Dean was contrite when he saw his wife standing in the lobby one hand on her lip. Her lips stretched into a tight line. I am so sorry. He said I should have listened to you. He wanted to say more, but his mouth was sour and his head was thick and the look Marni was giving him were making it very hard to think. You're damn right, you're sorry. Marni said she held out her hand. Palm up. Give me your driver's license. Dean blinked. Marni snapped her fingers. I did not stutter. Dean's sighed and reached into his pocket for his beat up wallet. Damped dollar bills and receipts spilling out his hands trembled as he handed his wife his license. He needed a drink. She tucked the license into her bra and turned on her heel. I'll let you know when you can drive again. She said over her shoulder, you can walk home, walk home.

Speaker 6 (39:56):

Dean did and people stared because we don't talk in this town. Not really, even though it's a small sort of place. Marni had a temper. We all knew that, but we couldn't imagine what Dean had done to be trudging home looking so sorry. That night Dean went out to the garage. He had been meaning to clean for months, well years if he was being honest with Marni, giving him the silent treatment and the kids looking at him suspiciously. It was the perfect time to try and create some order among the abandoned toys and hunting equipment and lawn games and his prize collection of dirty magazines. When Playboy was good, it was very good. For a few minutes, Dean allowed himself the quiet pleasure of flipping through the glossy pages, featuring women he would never dare touch, but sometimes imagined when he was on top of Marnie, who was a looker herself, but different because she had hair in certain places.

Speaker 6 (40:47):

For one these girls, they were so smooth like dolls. And yes, Dean realized it was kind of maybe abnormal to think of them that way. But he did wonder what it would feel like to slide into one of these slick skin dolls. Oh, he wondered. And then he stopped with all of that because he was in enough trouble. The last thing he needed was Marnie finding him drooling in the garage, his dick sticking out of his pants. After a few hours of steady work, the garage was finally starting to look like something and they could park a car in. Dean was working up a masculine sweat and feeling pretty good about himself. He found his old 10 speed and the bike was still working. Dean took it for a lazy spin around the block and found that he could hold a beer in one hand and the handlebar with the other and still make forward progress. He was going to get around. Marni could keep his damn driver's license. Maybe he would finally get in shape, maybe he'd get some of those abdominal muscles. Marni was always nagging him about, and then she would be the one pawing at him in the dark. Her breathing stuttered in heavy. A few days later, Dean added a basket to the front of his bicycle because sometimes a man needed to carry things.

Speaker 6 (41:59):

Marni stood in the driveway watching him work arms across her chest. This she said, sighing is not what I had in mind when I confiscated your license. Dean wiped his forehead and grinned We're going to be just fine. Baby trucker lost his license next. It was early morning and the previous night's drunk hadn't worn off. And somehow on his way to the unemployment office, he ran his truck right into the large oak in the front yard. Bindi came out wearing nothing but her slippers and a loose robe. Her heavy breasts loose against the silky material, which kind of turned trucker on, but he didn't want anyone else getting ideas. Put on some clothes. Woman Tucker shouted from inside the truck, put on some damn clothes, but damn, you sure do look good. Bindi ignored her husband. Something she often did, went around to the driver's side, leaned through the open window, her breasts pressed uncomfortably against the door and yanked the keys from the ignition.

Speaker 6 (42:56):

You better find yourself a bike like your buddy Dean because there'll be no more driving from you. Trucker shrugged because he was kind of confused and kind of turned on and he couldn't remember where he was supposed to be. So he stretched out along the front seat of the cab and turned the radio up even though he had a headache because it was Travis Tritt and he really liked that man's haircut, how it was feathered on top and long in the back when he sobered up. Trucker wandered over to Dean's house and Dean promised trucker that they would find him a bike, which they did at the pawn shop for only $25 older, but red trucker's favorite color and in fine working order. Later that afternoon, the pair pulled up to trucker's house on their bikes. Mindy lay stretched out on a lawn chair in the driveway.

Speaker 6 (43:43):

She pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head as they pedaled around. What on earth is this? She asked. Trucker's bike had a little bell and he kept on ringing it. I got me a bike. Woman. Woman, you can keep the damn truck. Bindi laughed. Don't worry, I will. She said, whatever you're up to. Make sure you bike your ass home by dinner. Trucker rang his bell three times and then he and Dean went on their way wide grins spreading across their faces as they made their way around town. Before long, all the wives in town had confiscated the keys and driver's licenses of their husbands. It was the right thing to do. They didn't want something terrible on their conscience while their men drank their way through Complicated sorrows. Drink and bike. Don't drink and drive. Esther Rollins told her husband Edgar, who complained that he was too damn old to be riding a bike like some damn kid. Esther always an efficient problem solver. Found Edgar an adult tricycle. At first, Edgar was reluctant. Look at this thing he said after it was delivered, everyone's going to make fun of me. Esther was unmoved Let them. She said he was right. He was all legs. His knees jammed against his elbows as he hunched over to pedal. As he rode around, people often pointed and laughed. They weren't trying to be cruel, but Edgar on his tricycle was a spectacle.

Speaker 6 (45:10):

The only bike Peter Lester could find was his daughter's pink Schwinn from when she was a little girl. Tricia, the daughter was in her first year of college. Now Pete couldn't even remember why they still had the bike though. He remembered teaching Tricia how to ride it and how the first time she wobbled for a few feet and then collapsed in a heap at the bottom of the driveway screaming her head off because she had scraped her elbow. Pete's wife told him they weren't spending a dime on a new bike. He wanted to grumble about being a man and making the money, but he had been out of work for a good while and his wife wouldn't have tolerated that kind of nonsense anyway. He was just going to have to make do. Pete looked ridiculous on the bike. He knew it. Everyone in town knew it, but for whatever reason, they said nothing. As Pete tooled around a big brawny man on a little girl's bike, they all thought he rode that bike with grace and dignity.

Speaker 6 (46:04):

Bellamy Jones didn't even drink, couldn't stand the taste of beer or liquor, but he quickly tired of driving around alone while his friends pedaled by on their way here or there. One afternoon, Bellamy came home from his job as an insurance adjuster, handed his keys to his wife, Gina, and said, I am done with driving. Gina frowned. You are the clumsiest person. I know you have no business riding around on a bike. Bellamy pointed out the front window. If they can do it, so can I. He adjusted his blazer and strode confidently into the garage to make sure his bike tires had air. He promptly tripped over a floor mat. Gina decided Bellamy wasn't allowed to leave his house without elbow and knee pads and his bike helmet. It was worth it though, to join his friends on their bikes making their way here and there much later. The women in town would agree there was something in the air that year. It was strange, but what a beautiful sight it was at the end of a long day, all those big brony men pedaling slowly on their bikes, one after the other in a never ending line. I could just cry thinking about it. You can't understand how beautiful those men were. Thank you.

Speaker 2 (47:21):

I should also mention Hugo House has a booth here. It's around 1000 ish. You'll find it. Yes. And now our final reader, Jess Walter, has published eight books but is perhaps best known for his three most recent books, the Financial Lives of the Poets and Beautiful Ruins, which is a number one New York Times bestseller. And we live in water, A collection of stories that won many, many, many awards. And his 2006 novel, the Zero was a National Book Award finalist and won a bunch of awards too. His work has appeared in almost as many publications as the work of Roxanne Gay, but not as many, I don't think. Not as many. Not as name. Jazz is the only person who has ever appeared twice at the Hugo Literary Series. But we're going to focus on his second appearance, I think, which was on the theme of the Parent Trap. And he appeared with Tiffany y Unique and Megan Snyder camp with music by a poet. Actually, we had music by Alicia Joe Ravens that night.

Speaker 7 (48:29):

Thanks everyone, and thanks so much to the Hugo House. These readings today have been amazing and it's why that series is so great and why the Hugo House is such a treasure. And if you have a place like that in your city, I hope you support it as wildly as you can. It's cool to be reading at a w P. Usually I'm on a panel whose title I don't understand. So right before, I'm always saying in the mirror, pedagogy, pedagogy, pedagogy, just in case someone asks me to pronounce it, but it's never really happened. And I'm going to read a very short story. I come from a blue collar family. I'm a first generation college student, and when I have to read, I always think of my dad's advice, which when I first started out on book tour, he worked in an aluminum plant his whole life. So he said, you're going out on book tour, what do you do? And I said, well, you go places and you give readings. And he gave me this face. He said, you wrote the goddamn thing and you have to read it to him too.

Speaker 7 (49:27):

So I always vowed to my dad. I would read short. I also love getting prompts, but they really color my writing Afterward for the next three months, everything I wrote was family trap. So this was one of the two stories I wrote. The shorter of the two from that prompt. It's called Chein, and Chein has an exclamation point like Chein. Something was the matter with the baby. He seems depressed, said the father. I don't think babies can get depressed, said the mother. She suspected Chasin was mimicking the father who sometimes affected the sort of spiritual weariness, blues players exhibited or aging gunfighters. Anyone can be depressed. The father said defensively, he wondered if the mother calling Chein the baby wasn't the real problem. He was after all, nearly four. So the father decided to start calling him. Buddy Chein was playing Legos. The Father walked over, what are you building buddy? Gallows said, Chein. The mother tried to sound cheerful. Who are you hanging buddy? The father added hope. Chasin said his little Lego man twisting in the air. How about the trampoline place for your birthday? The mother asked. Chein was coloring. He only used one crayon, black

Speaker 7 (51:10):

SpongeBob, Squidward Patrick. He colored them all black. I don't care. We could have the party here doesn't matter. Shein said, well, who should we invite? Mother Shein dropped the black crayon in the crease of the coloring book. I do not care, but it's your fourth birthday. She said, yes, I'm aware of that. Chastin's blonde hair swooped in a curling sea on his forehead and his eyelashes batted like waking butterflies. Finally he sighed. Maybe Cameron. Cameron, yes. The mother said, because I hate Cameron. Why would you say that? Chasin? Why would anyone say anything? Someone was nicking the father's scotch. He drank only pricey single mile Islay Lere Ardberg bruie. The father suspected their housekeeper. The bottles were kept in a series of tall cabinets in a closet. Off the study, the father had just decided to mark the open bottles with a sharpie. When he saw something under one of the liquor cabinets, a sippy cup lid, the father walked to ton's bedroom doorway. The boy had his back to the father facing the window and was palming his Batman sippy cup like a brandy sniffer. He swirled the drink ice clinked. The father was dumbfounded, who puts 30 year old scotch on rocks.

Speaker 7 (52:53):

The psychologist removed her glasses. Well, technically there's nothing wrong with Chasin. The way she said. Nothing wrong made the father think that having nothing wrong might be the worst thing that could be wrong with someone. We did standard testing, associative play chastin's. A bright boy as far as that's concerned. The psychologist looked over the frame of her glasses and there's been no recent trauma. No. They both said too quickly without looking at one another. They lived well in nine rooms on Central Park West. The father had inherited a great deal of money and his work was managing his own wealth. The mother volunteered at charities. We should be careful, the psychologist said, trying to diagnose what might just be a reasoned belief system. My son is Jeffrey Dahmer thought the mother. What I'm saying, the psychologist took off her glasses again, is that I don't think Chasin is depressed. I think well, she chewed her lip. I think your baby is a nihilist. At halftime, Chastin's soccer coach pulled the father aside. Listen, the coach said, I appreciate Chastin's unique personality, but he keeps shooting at our goal. It was true. Chastin's condition had progressed to meteorological nihilism. He no longer believed in the composition of things for chasin. One goalpost was just like another. In fact was no different from a telephone pole or a doghouse. Maybe play him it forward. The father suggested in the second half, Chesterton no longer observed the random nature of sidelines. He dribbled through the parents to the next field over and boot booted the ball into the street.

Speaker 7 (54:39):

Good kick. Buddy yelled the father monkey shoeshine lumber truck, chest, and said at dinner one night what his mother asked Bella Vaku chest and said, then he made a farting noise and stabbed himself in the leg with his fork while the mother put him to bed. The father looked it up online. Epistemological nihilism. The father said, he is denying the validity of all knowledge, language, ritual. It's all lost, meaning he's given into complete abstraction.

Speaker 7 (55:14):

The psychologist said to bring him in on Monday. The mother gripped the phone. What if Monday's too late? Oh, toddlers are incapable of that. The psychologist said of harming themselves. But that hadn't even occurred to the mother. She was afraid of something else. The father came out of his study holding in one hand, cons, critique of pure reason, and in the other heider's nihilism is determined by the history of being. This is interesting. He said, if we can get him to differentiate between being and a being, then maybe low clouds raced past the window. The mother side. I've had a lover for two years. Me too. The father said for almost four, and you're gay. The mother said Yes. The father said, I turned tricks in college. The mother said, I didn't even need the money. It was probably the last time I was happy. I've never been happy. The father said, I know, said the mother. I embezzle money from my sister's accounts. I hate volunteering. I despise the poor. The father searched for something else to say, I wear your underwear. He said, finally. Yes. The mother said, I know the father held up the Heiddeger book. I don't understand a fucking word of this. Cecilia. The mother began weeping because her name wasn't Cecilia

Speaker 7 (56:43):

Buddy. The father cried Turkey shoe blindfold. The mother said, but even as she said it, she couldn't remember what those words meant. The father yanked down his pants and his wife's underpants. He peed all over the marble floor. Happy birthday chest, and said from the doorway.

Speaker 5 (57:18):


Speaker 2 (57