A Little Kindness

I've been hosting readings at Mt. SAC and elsewhere for about 15 years now. In that time, I've worked with a lot of authors. It's incredible to me the type of things authors will do to audience members some times.

Anyway, it got me thinking. There are a lot of people whose books I will not read any longer. Why? A lot of books out there are great. If I read a jerk's book, I will have to relive that bad behavior again. How could I not?

I've left off the names of the guilty, but here are some stories of those 15 years, good and bad.

Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki

Tony Barnstone, author of so many great poetry collections, including Tongue of War, my favorite, comes again and again to Mt. SAC. He helps so many of our students every time, sitting down to have lunch with them. He helped one student to write his thesis statement. I will have him back as many times as he can come and read all his books.

Contrast: The author who came to campus and sat down for lunch. When a student said hello, she snorted and walked away.

I'm never reading her book again.

Fools Rush In (Christy Bristol)

Sunny Frazier, author of Fools Rush In and others, sits down and encourages students each time. She has given hope to all my young writers and to me as well, and I will read everything she writes. I will also assign her books over and over to my classes.

Contrast: The author who kept hitting on my wife and staring at her chest. He suggested that she should leave me and come away with him. He wasn't joking. That's actually happened with two writers.

The Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir

James Brown, author of The Los Angeles Diaries, has a policy where he will take questions for as long as people ask. He sat there for 3 straight hours once answering the most personal questions imaginable about his drug rehab and his religion. An amazing man. I will read all of his books!

Contrast: The author who showed up 45 minutes late to a 60 minute reading, refused to take questions, and then demanded his check be sent soon. Never going to read any more of his books.

Death Is Not the Worst Thing: Poetry

My old friend, T. Anders Carson, author of Death Is Not the Worst Thing, sits with all students, makes friends with everyone, listens and actually cares. There's nothing I wouldn't do for this man, and I will have him back at Mt. SAC every year if they let me.

Contrast: The publisher / writer who was asked how to publish some poems said: "I doubt that you will ever publish your work." She knew nothing of the student who actually did publish 10 poems the next year.

There are so many stories of kindness and generousity in writers -- Cathy Day, Kevin Lee, Sarah Miller, Paul Tayyar, Sharon Olds, Jo Scott-Coe, Donna Hilbert, Gerry Locklin, Murray Thomas. I'm starting to feel guilty that I'm not mentioning them all, but I've been hosting over 20 writers a year for 15 years now.

There have been many fewer writers with bad behavior. A number of them, when asked about breaking into the business, have shook their head and condescendingly told the person asking not to be in such a hurry as though they had infinite knowledge of the person's desires and abilities. Why not answer the question straight?

One of my least favorite -- the person whose career I had helped early on, helped get his first publications, and then he snubbed me and the students when he made it bigger. Not big, just bigger.

But what does that teach me?

The answer is obvious, no?

I haven't always been a good or kind person, and I need to change that. A little kindness goes a long, long way. With all those great books out there, why would I ever read the book (even a great one) that reminded me of a jerk?