A Better Way to Live
Pulitzer Prize-winner Stephen Greenblatt revives the Renaissance
Last year Stephen Greenblatt won a Pulitzer Prize for his nonfiction book "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern." In it, Greenblatt outlines how Poggio Bracciolini, a 15th-century humanist, saved important heretical writings that helped give rise to modern thinking. Such works, like those from Greek philosopher Epicurus were decidedly secular, moderate and science-based in tone. The Harvard professor and editor of the ubiquitous Norton Anthology of English Literature is a tremendously clever and accomplished intellectual and in our interview he explains his research and offers advice to aspiring authors.
Source: How long did you work on "The Swerve?"
Greenblatt: About five years.
What were the biggest obstacles you faced during the research and writing processes?
I had to struggle to understand and weave together three distinct periods: the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, Renaissance Italy and the modern world. The goal was to make each of them alive and in conversation with the others.
Can one be a Christian, or affiliated with any other religion, and also fully subscribe to the works and thoughts of Epicurus?
"Fully" is a tall order. Epicurus thought that the soul died with the body and that the gods were indifferent to the prayers of men. But, though he strongly opposed animal sacrifice and other practices he regarded as cruel, he thought that the experience of deep pleasure in the world could take the form of religious expression. This is one of the reasons that Lucretius begins his famous poem with a hymn to the goddess of love.
Who is the modern-day Poggio Bracciolini? Is it you?
Now, we are all modern-day Poggios, in search of clues for a better way to live our lives.
Any other projects on the horizon?
I am writing a book on the rise and fall of Adam and Eve.
What's the subject of your Bend talk?
My Bend talk is about the ways in which dangerous ideas—the ideas for which people were burned at the stake—managed to survive a time of intense intolerance and persecution.
What advice can you offer Bend's aspiring authors?
There are no magic bullets, but I think it helps to try to locate the wellsprings of one's deepest fears and desires. As Sidney put it centuries ago, look in thy heart and write.
Author! Author! Literary Series with Stephen Greenblatt
7 p.m. Thursday, March 7
Bend High School Auditorium, 230 NE 6th St.
$20-$75 at bendticket.com.
Up a CreekAuthor Jo Deurbrouck reveals a whitewater adventure tale worth reading
Jo Deurbrock was starting to think she'd never get her book published. As a last-ditch effort, Deaurbrock and others formed their own publishing company and put out "Anything Worth Doing," the story of Jon Barker and Clancy Reece, two passionate river rats from the Northwest. The book, which Deurbrock calls a "love letter to rivers and river people," immediately won a National Outdoor Book Award. The longtime raft guide-turned-author is coming to Bend to talk about her book as well as what makes a real adventure.
Source: How long did you work on this book? It's quite thorough and very well researched.
Deurbrouck: Like, 10 years. I'm a bad writer, but I'm a good editor. I just rewrite an insane number of times. David James Duncan said to me "We're all hacks." He went on to explain that it's a matter of, "Are you willing to do the work necessary?"
Which part of the book needed the most work?
I felt like I hadn't done Jon justice. He's very forthcoming. I later did a 14-day trip with Jon on the Owyhee River in Oregon. It was interesting to watch him through difficult portages, managing a commercial trip, but also [able to] sneak off for solo hikes.
I imagine you got pretty close to Jon Barker. Are y'all still in touch?
I probably know Jon Barker about as well as anyone. I'm not positive we're even friends. I think he's always focused on his next goal.
How did the publishing aspect go?
There were long periods where I got discouraged. The goal is perfection—and of course you can't achieve it. I got rejected more times than I could count. I was ready to quit, then I self-published. I, with others, made a publishing company to get this out.
And then you won a National Outdoor Book Award.
Yes, in November of 2012. I think of the book as my love letter to rivers and river people.
What obstacles did you face in researching this story?
The single hardest thing was trying to write a book about a character six years after he died. He was [for me] filtered through a weird lens—a funeral, diaries and memories.
Any other projects on the horizon?
I'm a little intimated by what to do next. When I started this book it wasn't supposed to be the best thing I ever wrote. It's the first thing I've ever written that I really like. Maybe something on wild horses. What do you know about wild horses?
I know they exist. I think there are some on an island off the coast of Georgia.
Huh. I'm working on a novel. But I'm scared it's going to prove what I knew all along—that I'm a non-fiction writer.
What's the subject of your Bend talk?
The talk is called the "Necessity of Adventure." It involves a lot of ideas that I wanted to imply in the book but that didn't really belong. I believe a life well-lived is when the liver is challenging himself. It's important to do what is difficult and frightening and what hasn't been done before.
Any advice for Bend's adventurous, aspiring authors?
Be true. That's where the best adventures are and where the best writing is. Good writing happens when you're trapped between what you have and what you want to get. That's when the going gets good—and hard.
Slideshow and Book Presentation with Jo Deurbrouck
6 p.m. Saturday, March 16
Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe, 805 SW Industrial Way, Ste. 6
The Importance of Being Feral
Best-selling author Cheryl Strayed on the healing powers of the Northwest woods
Heroin, divorce and the death of her mother—these are the things that in 1995 drove Cheryl Strayed to hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Her 2012 memoir "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" was a huge success and even hit No. 1 on The New York Times Best Seller List. Now, almost one year later, her book is coming out in paperback. And there's a movie in the works with Reese Witherspoon cast as Strayed. The Portland author is big time!
Source: "Wild" was first published last March, it's spent time on the best-sellers lists and now the paperback is coming out March 26. Life is good, right?
Strayed: It is. When I have to time to look up amid the craziness of life I say, "Oh yeah, it's good." It's kinda beyond anything I ever imagined.
Reese Witherspoon is playing you in a movie. Is that still moving forward? How involved are you with the film?
Nick Hornby [screenwriter] has done a phenomenal job with the script. I'm the associate producer, but I'm really more of a consultant. I'm not making the movie or writing the movie—I'm more like a grandparent than a parent that way.
The journey was an emotional and cathartic one for you. What might have happened if you hadn't turned to wilderness, exercise and self-reliance as therapy?
Physical suffering does help us with our emotional suffering. It's why people decide to run marathons when they finish chemo. I think I probably would have found my way, but I would have done it by different means.
Certainly others, from Bill Bryson to Jon Krakauer, have chronicled self-discovery adventures. But yours really resonated with people. Why do you think that is?
Much to my initial surprise, people see themselves in this book. I can't tell you how many people have said to me, "We live parallel lives." I really told it like it is on the page. I didn't try to make myself sound like a total jackass or a total expert. I think I honestly wrote about my strengths and weaknesses.
Why not finish the trail?
The point wasn't ever to finish the trail. I didn't have the time or money to finish the trail. And you have to remember when I started this thing I didn't even know thru-hiking was a "thing." You hike your own hike, you know? The person you're against is yourself.
So Oregon was your favorite part of the PCT, right?
Let's put it this way: Oregon has a place in my heart because it's my home. It's powerful to say, "I walked the whole state of Oregon." Picking your favorite part of the trail is like picking your favorite child if you have 12 of them.
Do you still hike? Have any favorite Northwest spots?
One of my favorite things to do is go to Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood and hike the PCT there. Or any of the number of trails around the gorge or at Forest Park here in Portland.
What are you working on now?
I've been consumed with stuff like this [pesky interview]. I do remember that at one time I was writer a in a room by myself, writing. I have two ideas: one's a novel and one's a memoir.
Any advice for Bend's aspiring authors?
Keep the faith. It's a lot like long-distance backpacking: You have to be the person driving you forward. You have to withstand a lot of the doubts of the people around you.