Reunion for Stanford Writing Program class of 1971-72
On June 11-13, 2010, a half dozen of me Stanford droogs and I gathered at Chuck Kinder and Diane Cecily’s wonderful home in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh for a class reunion. We all met 40 years ago as the Stanford Writing Program class of 1971-72, and several of us have stayed in touch ever since. There were about a dozen of us in the class, and sadly, two are now deceased: Fred Pfeil and John Zimarowski. Good guys and great writers, both.
Chuck and Diane were wonderful hosts in Pittsburgh, as they were many years ago in San Francisco. Back in the ’70s, there was always a party going on in their place, just about every night, and I wore out my welcome hanging out with them and characters like writers Ray and Marianne Carver, cartoonist S. Clay Wilson, and various Merry Pranksters from Ken Kesey’s earlier days.
Chuck took April Smith (the Ana Grey crime series), Michael Rogers (Mindfogger), and me on a great tour of Pittsburgh that culminated at Sampsonia Way and the wonderful loft of Henry Reese, the president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Cities of Asylum, and his artist wife, Dianne Samuels. About 10 years ago, Henry and Dianne bought four or five row houses on this alley-like street and turned them into refuges for persecuted writers from around the world. As noted in a New Yorker profile of Henry and Dianne, “they made Pittsburgh a member of an international project called Cities of Asylum, and they raised money—much of it their own—to bring writers to the row houses on Sampsonia Way for two-year stays, with expenses and medical care paid.” It’s an incredible program.
That evening we drove to the airport to pick up our classmate Don Paul, a poet and social activist who has been living in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. We went to hear him read poetry at a fundraiser for the local food bank. Don was wedged between bands at an old church converted into a bar in Millvale, across the river. He read four outstanding poems about the life of a Louisiana offshore oil worker, one of Don’s many jobs over the years.
On Sunday we picked up our old classmate Scott Turow from the airport and were the guests of Richard Goldman and Mary Alice Gorman of Mystery Lovers Bookshop at a panel presentation on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. A great crowd turned out to hear Scott, April, and me discuss fiction writing, crime, and our memories of the Stanford Writing Program. We sold lots of books! Thank you, Richard and Mary Alice.
That evening Chuck and Diane threw one of their classic parties in their home and the place was packed with writers, writing students, musicians, and an assortment of local characters. Chuck and I chased off the last stragglers around 2:30 a.m. The man can still party.
It was a weekend I won’t long forget. Below are some photos of our class in the old days of the 1970s.
Walkin' to New Orleans
I was in New Orleans on May 13, 2006, to participate in a benefit for the relief organization Common Ground. I joined my old friend Don Paul at Fair Grinds coffeehouse (near the Fairgrounds) and read from The White League. All proceeds went to Common Ground.
It was my first trip to New Orleans since Katrina. My son and I toured the Lakeview neighborhood and the site of his old child care center. The entire corner where the center had once existed was now bulldozed. Lakeview had received eight to ten feet of floodwater.
Don Paul took us on a tour of the Lower Ninth Ward, which looked like Dresden after the War. We had permission to enter one of the houses that hadn't been cleaned out. The furniture was topsy-turvy, personal papers and photographs were scattered everywhere, and mold was in full bloom. One of the neighbors dropped by to make sure we weren't looters. "The sliver by the river," as they're calling the area that escaped flooding -- Uptown, the Garden District, and the French Quarter -- all seemed normal. But the rest of the city was in slow recovery. And most observers predicted that many areas would be bulldozed to make room for whatever is next.