A 10th Year Retrospective


Way back in January, 2000 we convened a panel of science fiction mavens to share their forward-looking impressions on how futuristic and imaginative writing would fare now that the 21st century had actually come into view. Whatever other observations they might have propounded that afternoon, the one certainty was that our newly-established “forum for writers from our region” would have a future of its own. The program was called OFF THE PAGE and it gave time and space for authors and ideas, and an opportunity for listeners to ask questions and add their comments. We usually spend an hour (well, 53 minutes actually) with an individual writer, plenty of time for the conversation to be deep or expansive or playful, or all of the above. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-813919.mp3

So a retrospective is due.

Holiday Harmonies 2009, Show 2

Expressions: Holiday Harmonies featuring The Tabernacle United Methodist Church Choir and “Enchantment” featuring Lisa Craig Fenwick and Melissa Collins performing holiday classics and favorites at the WSKG studio. http://youtu.be/kHF_x2Uuf4s

"Lucky Bill" by John Vernon


There are few characters whose reputations have entered the realm of myth and continue to attract insatiable interest.  Was there ever really a Ulysses or a Robin Hood?  People still show up in Dodge City, Kansas looking for facts about U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon.  Then there are real people whose life stories become so filled in by legend so that they will not rest within the bounds of reality: Kublai Khan, George Washington, Napoleon… and Billy the Kid. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-821608.mp3

The American west with its wide horizons and unformed society is one of our narion’s cherished myths, and no figure from that short spell in a vast land looms as large as the gunslinger who killed twenty-one men before his own violent death in 1881 at age twenty-one (if that’s what really happened).  Billy the Kid has been the subject or made an appearance in hundreds of books, dozens of movies, songs, poems, even a popular ballet.  He was a dangerous man with a wicked charm, and in the New Mexico territory where he rode there is now a highway named for him.  There is even a Billy the Kid Message Board.  Dwelling today in cyberspace is not a bad fate for someone whose real story is still filled with gaps and mysteries – fertile ground for growing a myth.  Historians believe that he was born in New York City as Patrick McCarty, the son of Irish immigrants who moved west.  He was also known as William Bonney and as Kid Antrim. Such legendary figures may enjoy a certain durability because their actions and attitudes appeal to something deep within us.  Billy the Kid may have been immature and searching for acceptance and a clear identity, but he was certainly active in the pursuit.  The new novel “Lucky Billy” by John Vernon is filled with violence and rugged action, but it also delves into feelings and motivation. He’d practiced relentlessly, drawn and shot at whiskey bottles, rehearsed the insults guaranteed to spark rage and make his adversary rashly pluck at his weapon.  He’d armored himself with a scowl like Fred’s so no one could see the muddle inside.  He’d shot a man before, he knew how it felt, and the next time he vowed to be calm as a nun.  His intractable cockiness still felt oversized; he wished he’d grown into it now instead of later.  He’d run out of patience.  He liked to whip himself up.  You sons of bitches better watch your backs.  Look for a ditch you can die in, Brady.  If this don’t beat stealing soldiers’ horses at three in the morning outside Arizona whorehouses! — from Lucky Billy
John Vernon is Distinguished Professor of English at Binghamton University.  His writing about the Old West comes from personal experience, for he lives part of each year in Colorado, and his novels with a western setting include “The Last Canyon” and “All for Love”.  He also wrote about the post Civil War era in which “Lucky Billy” is set in the novel “Peter Doyle”.  “Lucky Billy” was named 2008 Southwest Book of the Year by the Arizona Historical Society and the Seattle Times named it one of the ten best fiction books of the year.  Vernon is also the author of a collection of personal essays, “A Book of Reasons”.

Writing About Ithaca


Ithaca, New York has earned a reputation as a font of artistic and literary creativity, giving the world books ranging from Grace Miller White’s “Tess of the Storm Country” (1909) to Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” (1955).  The local literary scene is as active as ever and provides many opportunities for writers and their readers to get together, including one of America’s largest used book sales.  During the weekend of May 7-9 the first Finger Lakes Literary Festival – called “Spring (W)rites” – took place in Ithaca. The kickoff event of the Festival was WSKG Public Radio’s OFF THE PAGE, recorded on Friday afternoon, May 7th in the BorgWarner Community Room of the Tompkins County Public Library. Four writers who call Ithaca home and have brought  the city and environs into their writing shared their insights and experiences with WSKG’s Bill Jaker. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-901015.mp3

They are:
J. Robert Lennon, whose novel “Mailman” is set in a town that could easily (very easily) be Ithaca.  His other novels include “The Light of Falling Stars” and most recently “Castle”.  He is also a musician and an assistant professor in the Cornell University English Department’s Creative Writing Program. Katharyn Howd Mahan, is the author of over a thousand poems and twenty books, including “Redwing: Voices From 1888” about the people in a mythical but realistic community in upstate New York.  She is a professor of writing at Ithaca College and in 2002 was named the first Poet Laureate of Tompkins County.