Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Our rock stars are not your rock stars

Since we have moved to Lexington, we have been presented with a lot more options. We can now shop at Whole Foods, our Library has 5 branches, and I have been able to meet a few pretty awesome writers. That, I was not expecting. No where on the Chamber of Commerce website did it tout "Frequent Book Tour Stop." A couple of months ago I walked away with Silas House's autograph and met a writer names Holly Goddard Jones. But Saturday night I hit the jackpot - Joyce Carol Oates.
For those of you who do not know, Joyce Carol Oates is a literary powerhouse. She has about 148 titles to her name, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature 4 times, and teaches at Princeton University. She also scares the pants off me.
When I saw her on EKU's website as part of their Winter Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Residency, I thought it was a misprint. JCO is BIG. Why on earth is she coming in for Eastern Kentucky State? Then I saw that she would be doing a reading, and it would be open to the public.
I was so excited, I showed up at the theater a half an hour early, and sat in my car and read Foxfire by the security lamp light while big flakes of snow piled up around me. When I went in neither food nor beverages were allowed in the theater, so I stood in the entryway, as to finish the coffee I picked up on the way. I chatted up a guy who was in the program about good restaurants in the area. (Turns out coffee drinkers are the new smokers). But lucky for us and our coffee love, because we got to walk in with the wee lady.
She is tiny. That is what struck me the most. She walked in this huge pink down parka, and pink cloche hat. She looked like she could be someone's grandma, or some lady sitting at church using a red pick to fluff up her graying black hair. But when she stood before us, she held all of our attentions in the palm of her hand. She could have read for three hours and none of us would have complained.
She read a short story from her anthology High Lonesome: New and Selected Stories from 1966 to 2006. It was about a woman who has her home invaded by two methamphetamine addicts. Oates is fearless in her subject matter, always pulling events straight from the headlines and putting her own even darker twist on them. I've read several of her books, and she is not afraid to create characters who rape, kill and completely betray their fellow man. She scares me, because the monsters she writes about are us. But I LOVE her, for that same reason. She has a novel from the point of view of the serial killer called Zombie, and I am too afraid to read it. So here we are - 30 strangers sitting in a dark theater listing to this little woman read about this horrible, terrifying and potentially real terror, and we were all so riveted that no one ever coughed or tried to clear their throat. The whole room was dead silent. I just kinda sat there with my mouth open.
So, of course, when it was time to go up and have your books signed by her, I acted like a blubbering idiot. I gushed all over her. "I'm such a huge fan, and I like this book, but it is not my favorite. My favorite is Foxfire, but I don't own Foxfire, but I have checked it out of the library like a million times, and I looked all over town today for a copy, but no one had one. And Blonde! I am such a huge fan of Blonde. . ." and at that point she handed me my book, said thank you and moved on to the next person. And to add to the creepy fan vibe, I practically whispered that whole diatribe, like speaking where she could hear me would offend her, or perhaps I temporarily lost the ability to project.
But it didn't matter then. I practically danced out the door. Not, not danced, because dancing would have been too slow. Instead, I grabbed my coat and bolted, putting on gloves and hat as I speed to my car. Maybe I was afraid she would ask for her autograph back, so I high tailed it out of there. I had this whole plan to talk to the coordinators of the event about EKU's program, as a possibility of attending, but that idea completely flew out of my head. I was out the door, phoning my husband to tell him how awesome it was.
I'm still all giddy about it.

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