In 2012, my wife and I visited the city of Prague, the Moravian countryside, and Budapest. Here I am at the Vltava River that runs through Prague, with Prague Castle in the background. I am standing across the street from the Cafe Slavia, where I met the writer Christopher Cook, a Texan who was living in Prague. The Cafe Slavia has always been a meeting place for artists, writers, intellectuals, and dissidents, including former president Vaclav Havel. Photo by Christopher Cook.
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.
Classmates and others at Stanford, 1971-72. (l to r, top row) Hunt Hawkins, John McClure, Fred Pfeil, Tom Zigal, Dave McDonald. (l or r, bottom row) Robert Roth, Michael Rogers, Janet Kinder, Chuck Kinder, April Smith, Anne West.
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.
Tom reading at the February 24, 2005 book signing
at Barnes & Noble in Austin.
Tom with friends Bruce Coe, Caren Coe, and Kathleen
Skinner (background) at the February 24 book signing
at the Barnes & Noble in Austin.
Tom with sculptor David Everett at the February 24
book signing at the Barnes & Noble in Austin. Robin
Jamail and Jackie Faulkner are standing in the background.
Authors Paul Foreman and Gene Fowler
at Tom's book signing on February 24 in Austin.
Tom with Colleen Devine, Barnes & Noble Community
Relations Manager for the Austin event on February 24.
Tom with novelist Sarah Bird at the February 24
book signing at Barnes & Noble in Austin.
Tom with Terry Wilson at the book signing on
February 24 in Austin.
Tom with old friend Doug Kirby at the Barnes & Noble
in Houston (Westheimer) on March 12, 2005. Doug Kirby
is a musician who played in bands called The Nomads
and Smoke, in the 1960s, with Tom's brother, Frank Zigal.
Tom with his old friend Jeanne DuPrau in front of
the Ransom Center at The University of Texas. Jeanne
is the author of The City of Ember (and the Ember series)
and contemporary classic The Earth House, a beautiful
meditation on love, Zen Buddhism, and housebuilding.
She was in Austin to promote her new book,
The Prophet of Yonwood. Tom and Jeanne met in 1972
as editors at a publishing company in Menlo Park, California.
Tom and Sheila Allee, author of Texas Mutiny:
Bullets, Ballots, and Boss Rule, at the Marble Falls (Texas)
Library on March 31, 2006. Sheila drove down from
Lubbock to visit her mother in Marble Falls and to see
Tom speak at the library.
Tom with library director Mary Jackson (left, in
Mardi Gras purple) and friends at the Marble Falls
Library on March 31, 2006. Mary is the librarian who
invited Tom to share a New Orleans lunch of red beans
and rice and to address the book lovers of Marble Falls.
The tables were festooned with Mardi Gras beads.
Laissez les bons temps roulez!
Malik Rahim (left), co-founder of the relief organization Common Ground, with Tom and Bob Tucker at Fair Grinds coffeehouse in New Orleans, May 13, 2006. Tom read at a benefit for Common Ground.
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.
Tom on the Strand in Galveston at his 40th high school
reunion with the Class of 1966 from De La Salle,
Lafayette LA. Left to right: Peter O'Carroll, Dave Murrin,
Armand Gonsoulin, David Heard, Tom, and their principal,
John Burke. June 2006.
Tom at the 2004 Texas Book Festival with fellow writers
April Smith (North of Montana and the Ana Grey mystery
series) and Gary Phillips (Ivan Monk mystery series).
April and Tom have been friends since they met in the
Stanford Writing Program in 1971. Tom met Gary at the
Left Coast Crime conference in Boulder, 1996.
Tom discussing state secrets with Bob Woodward.
Tom explaining his investigative techniques to
Woodward and Bernstein, campus of
The University of Texas at Austin.
"Thomas Zigal has entered New Orleans' heart of darkness after Katrina. His story is brave, frightening, and so dramatic that at times you have to get up and walk around the room."
--Jan Reid, author of The Bullet Meant for Me
Blackmail, an elite secret society in New Orleans, and a white supremacist running for governor of Louisiana are the main ingredients in this Southern crawfish boil of a novel.
"This is a terrifically strong and wonderfully humane new voice in crime fiction."
--James Crumley, author of The Last Good Kiss
"A deftly plotted mystery...intricate and ingenious.... Zigal tells a provocative and compelling story."
--Dallas Morning News
"Kurt Muller remains one of the most interesting characters on the American mystery scene."
--Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent