Saturday, February 12, 2011

Roy Kesey has released a new novel, Pacazo, through Dzanc and he's currently touring the US for 2 weeks to promote it. I had the chance to attend his reading recently.

Roy lives in Peru (his wife is a Peruvian diplomat), but he grew up north of San Francisco. He happened to be reading at the Healdsburg Literary Cafe (which spends most of its days not as a cafe but as a senior center) thanks to Stefanie Freele, another zoer. Anyway, I had the pleasure of seeing him read, sign, and be Roy Kesey. fwiw, he's warm (made me feel like an old friend who'd just never met him in person), witty (delivery is vaguely similar to Matthew Perry which Roy might consider an insult), and his wife is clearly not the only diplomat in his family.

The reading part was terrific btw. One of my private measures of other writers is my "could I do that?" scale. If I answer "No, not in a million years" it's someone with serious talent and the Thanksgiving-excertps from Pacazo were a good 7.5 on my "can I do that" version of the Richter Scale. The readout for a 7.5 says something like "mmmm, maybe I'll never be able to get there." It's about an American history professor working in Peru, but the excerpt was laugh out loud funny, profound, and heart-stoppingly precise when it needed to be.

There was this small town reading moment just before Roy's reading that I found even more fascinating. One of the tricks for getting a crowd in a small town is to include an open mike. It's not always clear if some of the readers are there for the open mike or the featured reader. There were something like 15 open mike folk (I had signed up but they cut it off before I got the chance) and I suspect a few came for that. After the intermission, the MC got up and gave Roy the following introduction, "I'd like to introduce Roy Kesey. He lives in Peru."

You grow up in Ukiah, go to high school there, publish in 80 journals, win an NEA, get included in BASS, do regular dispatches from China for Mcsweeney's, write four books, come back for a reading near your home town and that's the introduction? In her defense, Stefanie Freele was likely going to do the introduction but had an unforeseen commitment. It was a different thing, but it reminded me of the moment a woman asked Isabel Allende if she was related to the dictator? Like Isabel Allende, Roy responded with remarkable grace and tact (essentially just going on with the show and slipping a few biographical details into his patter, then mentioning what a great audience they were). Hence, yet another "Wow" I don't think I could do that moment for me.

During the question and answer, Roy wound up mentioning and shared his history on the site,something I didn't know. Althought he'd written his first book at age 4 (don't think I was reading at that age), he was still a fledgling writer about to turn 30 who hadn't published. He was also living in some distant part of Peru and his contact with other writers was limited to the internet. Zoetrope became his source of contact with other writers and his workshop and he mentioned that this is where he got better.

Anyway, Stefanie Freele lives near me. Roy grew up near me. I wouldn't have met either of them had I not popped into one day and gotten accused of being DH Henry. I was at an in person reading of an extremely talented writer who was mysteriously acting like he knew me. It was just an extension of that community and one of the benefits of participating there.
I'm looking forward to reading and reviewing Pacazo in the meantime.

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