For your Summer reading pleasure, hope you’ll consider books from my growing NeXTeXT collection. With last week’s publication of Sarah Knorr’s poetry, you can choose from a Charlottesville novel, a gripping story collection, a memoir of the Greatest Generation, and two books of poems. All available on Amazon (or ask for them at your local bookstore). Have a great Summer, everyone – read on!
The last time I saw my friend Sarah Knorr was a month before covid shut everything down. We met at my favorite bakery Sub Rosa on Church Hill, sitting side by side on a bench along the wall, sipping tea and nibbling a cinnamon roll. Through the bakery’s tall picture windows, we watched a horse-drawn funeral cortege round the traffic circle just outside, both of us smiling at this augury, the kind of correspondence poets live for. Sarah had recently stopped chemo. She said her flaming red hair was beginning to sprout again, but as always in public she wore a wide straw hat, movie star sunglasses, and a Kate Hepburn scarf around her neck. She asked, as usual, about my writing. She never mentioned, ever, her own.
This time last year we were all in covid lockdown, and Sarah lay dying in Verona, in the house my dear friend her husband Ken built atop a river bluff amidst trees alive with birdsong. He nursed her for months as her body failed, no visitors allowed because covid, then in mid-July she died, not of the virus but of the cancer she had danced with for so long (Sarah hated it when people used verbs like “battle” or “wrestle” or “fight” to describe the cancer experience. She corrected one friend with, “This is not a fight. It is a dance, and when the music stops I will sit down.”)
A few weeks later, Ken and Sarah’s estimable sisters Anne and Ginger invited me to look through three boxes of Sarah’s writings, and in those boxes I discovered pages and pages of poems, a few from as far back as high school, others written as recently as 2017, some published in literary journals. I’d known Sarah and Ken for twenty years, she had acted as a fierce and inspiring champion of my writing, and yet for reasons I don’t understand she never mentioned her own work. I knew her as a relentless advocate for people with disabilities, the person who could figure out funding, housing, or caregiving for the weakest among us, tirelessly untangling the state’s byzantine social safety net case by tedious case. Those were the things she talked about when she wasn’t praising some bit of writing I’d shared. Never her own writing ever.
As I sorted through her boxes, and the poems piled up on my desk, it quickly became clear what had to be done. Sarah was not a hobbyist or Sunday poet. She was a hard-working, steady, and focused artist. Her poems are tightly wrought and physically acute. They typically strike flint-like on sharply drawn images of quotidian life, sparking evocative links to myth, symbol and mystery. They reward close reading and re-reading, both individually and in correspondence with each other. They deserve an audience.
So I decided to collect them. It took nearly a year of mostly weekend effort, since I was teaching covid-inflected courses at VCU, but over time a sequence of 80 poems came together. As you might imagine, there were varied versions of many of these poems. I made the best decisions I could about which might be the final versions, winnowing as I went along. Some of the poems had been published in literary journals, so they were easy to figure out. Others were crossed over with edits, so I did the best I could. In no case did I alter a word or even a comma. This book is Sarah’s.
In reading the collection you will see, as I did, that Sarah was an accomplished lyric poet. Her voice, her cadence, and her vision clearly and consistently speak from poem to poem. The best lyric poems, through some magic trick, make personal experience universal. Sarah’s achieve that high bar.
One way to measure originality in an artist is to clock their influences. Many of Sarah’s poems work as compact parables, drawing insight from nature, as Mary Oliver’s do. Some draw from her childhood ranging over the family farm on horseback, attentive to rural lessons as Wendell Berry’s do. That said, no one but Sarah could have composed these poems. Her intimate acquaintance with cancer (she suffered surgery and radiation in her 20s, and lived with the expectation of recurrence) taught her how tentative and precious life is. Yet the poems don’t mope; they praise each moment of lived existence with a fierce, terse insistence.
In closing, I’d like to thank Ken, Anne and Ginger for sharing Sarah’s work and letting me take a shot at collecting her poems. Thanks go to Sarah’s lifelong friend Adele Castillo, who found a painting (by the local artist Carol Baron) of Sarah’s spirit animal the heron for the cover. And to my visual artist son Stephen for cover design. One last thing, proceeds from sales of Sarah’s book will go to one of her many charities. I’m so glad to be able to share this collection with you all. Here’s where you can get it, in paperback or e-version. Enjoy!
Glad to see this! For an indy author, something of a coup, reviewed by jury selection: https://www.publishersweekly.com/9781732760806?fbclid=IwAR1Syf-ovA1xvyRY5qDpj6J_F0bdusGS1iUZB-7viUAl5OF685vFhKueltg.
As most readers of this blog will know, the novel is available on Amazon here https://amzn.to/3eZo2XQ or by request at your local book store.
And through the end of April, the Kindle version is available for free on Amazon.
Here’s what Publishers Weekly said:
Thanks, PW! What a happy surprise amidst our sequestering!
Thanks Book People, Richmond, VA for stocking my debut poetry collection and for advertising it on your site, just in time for National Poetry Month! Though coronavirus has closed the storefront, you can still order books online: https://bookpeoplerichmond.shelf-awareness.com/?issue=8.
One way I’ve been spending my Covid-19 home confinement, building little readings of poems from my new collection Yearnful Raves (available here). Here’s another one. Hope you’ll go for the whole book, of course!
When I started work on my debut novel The Coal Tower (https://amzn.to/2HcegCg) ten years ago (there were previous novels, of course, piled in that proverbial drawer), one sweet dream that drove me to get up at 5 am, brew some coffee, and sit down in the light of my laptop to write before work was the possibility that someday the book would come out, and when it did, maybe I’d be fortunate enough to launch it at my favorite bookstore, the linchpin of Charlottesville’s literary scene, New Dominion.
Living in Charlottesville, working as an occupational therapist at UVA-Healthsouth, then starting a community reentry program for people with brain injuries connected to Martha Jefferson Hospital, then starting up an early tech company Cerebreon, along with acute care practice at UVA Hospital, while also starting a family with my amazing wife Chris and our two boys (both out of their teens now), the ideas and characters for this novel did what I guess you’d call germinate. An autocratic neurosurgeon at UVA, one of our brain injury clients who tended to drift off to a homeless camp on the edge of the river, teenaged patients emerging slowly from comas caused by car crashes or shootings, and so on, all this swirled around my busy days with no place to land.
Then there was that tragic shooting at the old coal tower downtown, when a young man with mental health problems killed two teenagers. That event struck me as a metaphor somehow for what I felt about Charlottesville, and its disparate communities, but it took me the writing of the novel to place it. I hope that’s what I’ve done.
Anyway, next week that sweet dream comes true. New Dominion is holding a launch party for The Coal Tower. And what’s even sweeter, they’ve scheduled it during Game Week. The novel takes place in one day – the day of UVA’s first football game of the season – and my reading will be held that same week (on Wednesday August 28, from 7-8 pm). Much of the action in the book takes place on the Downtown Mall, just outside the doors of the New Dominion Book Shop. How sweet is that?
So, if you live in the Cville environs, hope you can come and share in my dream come true. It’s been a decade in the works, but now tastes to me as delicious as a scoop of Chap’s coffee ice cream in a waffle cone!
Here’s the New Dominion link for the event: https://ndbookshop.com/events/tony-gentry-the-coal-tower/. Y’all come, now!
Visiting the Outer Banks this weekend to hang out with son Nick, who’s ocean rescue life-guarding for Nags Head again this summer, and still feeling the glow from last weekend’s reading at Book People in Richmond, VA. David, the owner, played gracious host, friends (counted among them six occupational therapists – hey, birds of a feather!), family, and the occasional casual shopper dropped in. Paul Witcover, my best friend and a constant inspiration (he’s a well-published SF author – here’s his website: https://paulwitcover.com), drove all the way down from New York; one of my pals from high school, Doris McGehee, drove in from Palmyra, and my son Stephen, who designed the covers for both my books, took pictures and made a video of the reading (not yet edited, but soon, he says).
I read a two page section from The Coal Tower drawn almost autobiographically from my childhood, when Grandma Glass, our next door neighbor, would impress her fingers in a “foldover sandwich” made from Nolde’s white bread and her own homemade blackberry jam. Here’s a paragraph from that passage.
Fun to sign books (David had set out copies of The Coal Tower and Last Rites for people to purchase). The whole afternoon just so fun! Thank you to all who came, to all who wanted to come but ran into obstacles along the way, but mostly to David for being the most caring, personable, open-hearted bookseller in Richmond. Go visit his shop, if you don’t know it. It’s at 536 Granite Avenue, in a cottage. He’s got easy chairs to sit in, a Keurig machine at the door, and a nicely curated collection of new and used books, including a shelf of local authors, often discounted. Here’s the store’s website: https://bookpeoplrichmond.com.
My next reading is scheduled for New Dominion Book Store on Charlottesville’s downtown mall on Wednesday August 28 at 7 pm. What’s so cool about this: a lot of the action in The Coal Tower occurs right outside the doors of New Dominion on the mall, and the whole novel takes place on Game Day, Labor Day weekend, the same week when I’ll be giving the reading! In my book the UVA football team plays Penn State that day. This year they’ll be playing Pittsburgh. Close!
Book People Book Shop at 536 Granite Avenue in Richmond, VA’s West End is hosting my first ever book signing (and reading) on Saturday June 1, from 1-3 pm. It’s a busy day for readers in town, with Poetry Society awards, James River Writers day in the park and more. Hope folks can come by – David at Book People is one of the nicest book people there is, and if you don’t know his shop, you should. I’ll have copies of my debut novel The Coal Tower and of my story collection Last Rites, both published in the past six months, and ready for your summer reading beach bag.