Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kim Addonizio

I recently had the honor and privilege of being included in a group of faculty and students that took poet/novelist Kim Addonizio out to dinner before her scheduled reading. I was so psyched. As a new grad student in Butler's English department, my mission is to milk the experience for all it is worth. Butler brings in a lot of famous writers, and in service of my mission I am determined to meet as many of them as possible. Now that I had a spot at Addonizio's dinner table, though, panic struck. What would I talk about with this famous author? But wait, I thought. Kim Addonizio's novels are set in the Bay Area, and the author herself lives in Oakland. That's something! I grew up in San Francisco, and my mom lived in Oakland. That small sliver of commonality in the Venn diagram of our lives gave me hope. Maybe all I had to do to connect with Addonizio was find a way to oh-so-casually drop this little tidbit into the dinner conversation. "Kim," I would say, "did you know we share a common geography?" and our Bay Area sisterhood would instantly forge. Like a true insider I would ask, "Is McArthur Boulevard still teeming with streetwalkers, and do they still get incrementally fancier the further you drive? And -- don't laugh -- but as I pictured her acknowledging my savvy, in-the-know question, this is how I imagined she would reciprocate: "Oh, Susan, they do!" And hey, have you ever had the Black and Tan sundae at Fentons?" (Fentons is Oakland's semi-famous ice cream parlor, and ice cream has always been my drug of choice.) And if all that wasn't enough grist for the mill to establish our sisterhood, there are the small matters of grit and bad decision making. The characters in Addonizio's novels tend to show both these qualities, and I was certain this was born of the grit Addonizio showed and the bad decisions she must have made in her own life. Double kinship! Kim and I were going to be tight! I couldn't believe how much we had in common! Well, except for the "tats," of course, but I was confident that, despite my unadorned skin, Kim and I were sure to bond. Our tablemates were going to sit by and watch our friendship meld with open-jawed awe.

So that's how I found myself, Thursday night, sitting nervously on a mile-high stack of unrealistic expectations, across the table from Kim Addonizio, ready to dish about our shared hometowns. And how did it go, you ask? Well, Kim was congenial, pleasant and affable, but she was pretty much all business. Not exactly forthcoming about her own life, and not especially inquisitive about anyone else's at our table . I guess I assumed a wide-eyed curiosity would be the hallmark of any writer, but Addonizio came off as, to me at least, a little guarded (perhaps it was me who was guarded?) When I look back on the evening, though, I have to laugh. Why should I have expected an instant friendship with a total stranger just because we both hail from the same part of the country or because we both have an interest in writing? There could have been a million things on her mind that night. Who knows, maybe she was tired. Maybe it ends up being a big drag to travel across the country to spend time with strangers (who carry all sorts of expectations with them!) and read the same poems over and over. And the Bay Area connection I so unrealistically thought would magically bond us? The couple of attempts I made at bringing up our common Bay Area provenance were met with nonchalance.

After dinner we all moved on to Butler for her reading. At Butler Addonizio pulled out all the stops, reading poems and accompanying some of them with blues harmonica, which made for an entertaining and informative evening. That my construct of a Bay Area sisterhood, (born of my fantasies of immersing myself in the world of famous writers), didn't pan out didn't take away from the fact that I HAD DINNER WITH KIM ADDONIZIO!

I'll remember Addonizio best by the button on the lapel of her jacket. She draped it over the back of the seat in front of me during her reading. It read: "F@ck the world. I'm an artist." (The button didn't make use of the "@.")

Well, it's on to author number two in Butler's series, another poet, Yusef Komanyakaa.

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