On Sunday, March 25, I will be reading a brief excerpt from my upcoming novel "Hometown" at the Soul-Making Keats Literary Prize Awards Event at the San Francisco Main Library. The event is free to the public and it would be my great pleasure if you could join me.
Just in case you can't, below is a sneak peek:
I may have been poor my whole life, but I can't say that I've ever gone hungry. Around here, when someone's broke, it's things like rent and electricity that they can't afford, not food. Here, everyone grows up knowing how to pull food out of the water. Every kid, boy or girl, by the time they're in grade school, can catch, clean, and cook pretty much any critter they're likely to come across in the shallows. Even when the food stamps run out, there is usually something in the crab traps or at the end of a fishing pole. You can have your kids go hunt up crawdaddies for lunch while you fish from the shore for dinner. Hell, give me a couple of beers, and I think it's fun to hunt crawdaddies. I've been a lot of things in life, but hungry has never been one of them.
I first learned to fish on the houseboat Mama and I lived in after my daddy left. We'd lived in a trailer before that, but Mama wasn't able to keep up with the rent. The rent on that old boat must have been cheap, because we lived there for several years, until the old man who owned it croaked. After that came a series of cheap rentals – renovated garages, soggy wooden mother-in-law units built in a time before construction codes, spare back rooms in old homes owned by ancient ladies that smelled of cat piss and stale Madeira. At one point in my life, I even took a quick tour through the foster care system. I generally don't like to talk about it or even think about it. I was in three different homes during the year I was in the system, but only one left a lasting impression on me.
The parents had a handful of kids of their own, but took in two foster kids anyway. The father was a professor at one of the colleges up in Mobile. I don't remember which one, but he used to like to ask me what I wanted to study, as though I were going to go to college. His wife was from Italy – actual Italy! “Northern Italy, near the Alps,” she'd tell us. That must have been why she didn't look like Italians I'd seen on TV. She was fair and very, very slender. She used to tell me that she was envious of my hair because it's so thick and dark. I think she was just trying to be nice, but I did start washing my hair a little more often, just in case.
The place was lousy with kids, but every day they managed to get us all clean, fed, and to school on time. It was chaos, but an organized chaos. Breakfast was mandatory, even if eaten while being hustled on to the school bus. Homework was done as a group at the dining room table and, at least nominally, checked. There were well-balanced sack lunches to barter away at recess, as well as a rule forbidding that same act. There was a set bedtime to rebel against, and dessert privileges were yours to lose. Dinner was eaten raucously, but all together. The kitchen was in every way the center of that home and from morning until night it was alive with people and food. I was only there for two months before I got to go home to Mama, but, every now and then, I still dream about that kitchen.