- Editor's Notes
The other day I had occasion to drive through a town named Red Haw, just a few miles from my home in rural Ohio. I live in a small community, but it's a booming metropolis compared to Red Haw, a town of Trump re-election signs, a smattering of houses, a few barns, and a Methodist church. Red Haw is an easy place to ignore, and it's an even easier place to think you know. When I drive through a tiny town during the day in rural America, I'm quick to characterize the town by what I think I see there. The Methodist church tells part of the story; Trump signs tell the rest. But when I drive through Red Haw at night, my cheap and condescending characterizations fall away. At night I see yellow light splashed on the lawns. These splashes of light remind me that as a writer—hell, as a human being—I cannot afford to believe I know a place or its people by campaign signs or churches. The yellow light illuminating parts of dark lawns and porches remind me that the people in those houses are more than demographic data. They're actual flesh-and-blood human beings as unique as I believe myself to be. For the last three years, I've had to remind myself of this over and over again. I'm not proud of it. [End Page vii]
My eighty-eight-year-old father and I drove through Red Haw the other day. We made the usual jokes. Who the hell even names a town Red Haw? Was there an actual man whose first name was Red and whose surname was Haw? That's a guy I would have loved to party with in my more reckless days. By the time we'd finished making our quips, the town and its people were behind us. My dad himself could serve as evidence of my splash-of-light theory. During the day I see my dad's house as the place an elderly man lives after a long and interesting life—life as a father, husband, yellow-dog Democrat, sailor, former Cleveland homicide detective. But approaching his house at dusk or dark tells more of the story. That's when I see the yellow light from inside splashed on his front lawn. It's a lonely light I behold then. That's when it hits me hard that he lives alone, a man who has been happily married twice, a man who has had to bury two wives he loved. No writer can afford to see only the daylight. No American—especially not in 2019—ought to accept the easy half-truths daylight delivers.
At the same time that I was struggling to remind myself not to judge my fellow Americans by their political beliefs, my co-editor Dan Lehman and I were choosing the pieces for our book celebrating and commemorating the first twenty years of River Teeth. It was an excruciatingly difficult task. How would we ever choose the pieces that would represent some of the best work of the last twenty years? Our first draft of the collection contained nearly sixty works and came in at a ridiculous (yet sensible to us) 289,000 words. Because we publish only what we love, and when we love something we'll go to the ends for it, we wanted to include so much more in River Teeth: Twenty Years of Creative Nonfiction, which will be published in February by the University of New Mexico Press. So many of the essays, memoir, and literary journalism we've published over the last two decades could not fit into the final version. We said no to so much we loved. In the end, we got the book down to 110,000 words, and I believe they are words to live by.
I needed to read once again about Sam Pickering and his aging dog, and about Ted Kooser's former house where a murder occurred. I loved renewing myself with the girls in Angela Morales's town, and [End Page viii] with a gun in a song made...