A conversation with award-winning author Kim Stafford about his new memoir 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared In poetic and poignant detail, Stafford takes us on a journey of sibling love and departure. Stafford recounts his experiences with his brother and the different paths their lives took and we hear readings from his new book. A consummate teacher as well as writer, Stafford’s descriptions of his writing process is lesson in the craft of telling family stories and making sense of our personal thoughts about them.
More about 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: Bret and Kim Stafford, the oldest boys of the Poet Laureate and pacifist William Stafford, were close. As children, they never fought and were inseparable, yet each had their own unique place within the family. Bret was the good son, the obedient public servant; Kim the itinerant wanderer. Though their home was full of love, there was a code of silence about hard things: “Why tell what hurts?”
As childhood pleasures ebbed, this reticence took its toll on Bret. Against a backdrop of the 1950s and 60s, Bret—a puritan in the summer of love, a conscientious objector in the Vietnam era—became a casualty of his own interior war and took his life, leaving the family—and Kim—to endure the loss.
Taking its title from a pamphlet Bret ordered as a kid, 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do is a memoir that works its own magic in portraying two brothers bound by love and friendship through boyhood and adolescence, forging their way into adulthood, together and then, ultimately, apart.
Through Kim’s devotions, he shares Bret’s life and what it teaches us about the secret nature of depression, the tender ancestry of violence, the quest for harmonious relations, and finally, the trick of joy.
Kim Stafford Readings:
November 8, 7pm at Annie Blooms, 7834 SW Capitol Hwy / Portland OR 97219. For more info call 503-246-0053 or visit www.annieblooms.com
November 14, 7pm at Broadway Books, 1714 NE Broadway, Portland OR 97232. For more info call 503-284-1726 www.broadwaybooks.net/event
November 18, 1-4pm Book signing, Audubon Society “Wild Arts Festival,” Montgomery Park, 2701 NW Vaughn, Portland OR 97210. For more info visit: wildartsfestival.org/about-portland-audubon
December 4, 7pm at Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 Tenth Avenue , Seattle WA 98122. More info call 206-624-6600. www.elliottbaybook.com/node/events/current
January 16, 2013, 7-8pm Book Launch and reading, Lewis & Clark College. Portland, OR (contact Matsya Siosal 503-768-6222)
February 21, 7pm Grass Roots Book Store / Corvallis Public LibraryCorvallis, Or (& a free writing workshop, 2-4pm)
March 4-6, time TBA Associated Writing Programs, Boston (Panel: “Writing Beyond the End”) https://www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference/schedule
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kim Stafford has taught since 1979 at Lewis and Clark College, where he is the founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute and co-director of the Documentary Studies program. He also serves as the literary executor for the estate of William Stafford. He has worked as an oral historian, letterpress printer, editor, photographer, teacher, and visiting writer in communities and colleges across the country, and in Italy, Scotland, and Bhutan. Stafford has published a dozen books of poetry and prose, including The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft; Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford; and Having Everything Right: Essays of Place. He has received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Oregon Governor’s Arts Award, and a Western States Book Award. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and children.
Read an excerpt: Prologue: The Trick
“In 1958, when he was ten, my older brother, Bret, found an ad in the back of a comic book and ordered 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do. When this pamphlet of secrets arrived, he flipped through to the last and most difficult trick: how to jerk a tablecloth away but leave a wine glass standing. Like many tricks in this life, the materials were ordinary, but the required sleight of hand approached the impossible.
He waited until everyone was gone from home, set the Finnish sherry glass on the dishtowel—a hand-made crystal that family friends had brought us from afar. Bret held the selvage in his hands, took a breath, and yanked the cloth. Shattered glass flew everywhere.
Long after Bret was gone, I would tell our son, Guthrie, who had never met his uncle, stories of that era when I had a brother and the world was young. It was an era spangled with mysteries and delights.
One day, when Guthrie was ten, as we sat at our family table, he took the edge of the tablecloth in his hands, cast a sly smile in my direction, and said, “Dad, shall I do the trick?”
He laughed, made a feint to twitch the cloth in his hands, and my mind went far. The present moment dropped away, and I watched my brother in a parade of enigmatic moments from childhood through our years together and beyond.
“Guthrie,” I said, “I could write a book about Uncle Bret called ‘100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do,’ and tell all kinds of stories from his life.”
“Yeah, Dad,” Guthrie said, “but suicide was the trick that didn’t work.”
Well, one of the tricks that didn’t work. In my brother’s life, his last desperate day was but one in an array of mysteries. How many tricks are required to become a man? What have been my own encounters with this fierce set of hidden tests and amazing feats? And Guthrie, this man-child in my life—what moments from his story best reveal our need? The essential code must include the tricks of confidence, loneliness, sex, fear, anger—how to begin a courtship and know it is right, how to end a job when it goes wrong, how to crawl from the wreckage when this life falters, how to plunge to the cellar of sorrow and grope for the ladder that might bring you back into some kind of light, no matter how dim or strange.
How many lessons must be clawed from trouble in order to survive? By what infinite practice in sleight of hand does one become a human being?”
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