The ethic of The Head & The Hand has always been to bring writers into as much of the process as possible. It’s a mission that I created and that has been upheld in such committed and creative fashions by both H&H Staffers and H&H Writers a like. So now that I securely (and sometimes not so securely) straddle both of those worlds with the release of my newest essay collection, Kensington Homestead, that ethic has truly been tested. I’d say about 90% of the time, I’m pretty on point. But when it comes to the ever necessary, and oftentimes effective task of extending the reach of a book tour by blogging about it, that extra 10% becomes a bit more difficult to attain.
This is obviously not because I dislike writing or traveling. Life would be fairly unlivable without the two. But even though my travels have made it into my memoir or fiction work (check out the forthcoming Corn Belt Almanac for a glimpse), I’d much rather allow the experience to exist between me and the people and places I encounter along the way. I don’t keep a journal, which makes my wife happy since I don’t disrupt our trips with long sojourns into writing mode. And I don’t take pictures, which drives my wife nuts because there’s never any proof of where we’ve been and what we’ve done.
But my latest trip to Boston for a series of book readings involved three very important people who made such an impact on me that I’d like to share with our H&H readers, PR purposes be damned
- Holly Fowler- I didn’t know Holly before this trip. What I did know was that I needed to have a local person at the reading I did at Trident Booksellers and Café on Newbury Street in Boston. Of course, the formula to a successful reading is to get a local on the bill to bring part of the crowd, even if the reading is at a place like Trident where they combine the other best pairing with books—food. But asking Holly to read was more than just to get people in the door., I knew straight away that people were going to ask about urban agriculture due to the subject matter of Kensington Homestead. And I knew that I didn’t want to be the guy standing up there not able to answer questions like, “How do I get involved in Boston?” or “Can I have chickens in my backyard?” (although I didn’t know how many people would want chickens after hearing the Mother Clucker Story). As the Managing Director of Northbound Ventures, I knew that should would be the perfect person to represent Boston. There’s always a self-consciousness when asking someone to join a reading, especially when that person is not a writer. But the first thing Holly says when I meet her is, “I’m so glad you reached out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done the same thing to complete strangers, and it has always worked out well.” That statement set the tone for what was one of my favorite readings in a long time, not just because the audience laughed at all the right parts of the essay, but also because the conversation flowed so well after that. As one of the people contributing to Boston’s sustainability plan, especially around urban agriculture, she was there to answer those tough questions regarding regulations and how to get involved, as well as trade notes with me on the difficulties and successes of working with city government, and simply growing food in a city. The last thing she said to me that night was, “I just made a new friend.” It couldn’t have ended any better way.
- Raghu Krishnan- I have known Raghu for almost a decade now, albeit as one of the scientists who worked with my friend Allison and H&H Editorial Director Linda Gallant’s husband Eric. But it was one of those relationships where you don’t really know that person beyond the implication of common interest through common friends. So I didn’t know what to expect when Linda jumped into the marketing side of things and told me, “I can set you up to stay at Raghu’s if you want.” Raghu had moved to Cambridge from his adopted city of Philadelphia about a year ago. And aside from the pleasant surprise that he was the kind of guy you could sit at the bar with for hours without running out of fodder for the proverbial “shooting the shit,” the shit we were shooting had to do with one of my favorite topics—cities. Of course, Raghu had the usual observations of what it was like to shift an identity across urban lines (i.e. where to eat, where to go, how to find friends across neighborhoods). But Raghu’s observations rather quickly went into the realm of “How Cities Work.” Over a few beers at the bar, we discussed the ups and downs of Boston’s “T” (transportation system). We talked about how transplants fit into the city and how long time residents respond to them. And of course, we talked about how to grow food amongst the many backyards and “Commons” spaces throughout Boston. I’d need a whole other essay to explain what we came up with. But what inspired me was that these kinds of conversations that I have so often in the redevelopment bonanza of Philadelphia is actually on the minds of many people in many cities. Of course, you’d think this to be true. But it’s fun when it becomes part of your travel experience.
- Kim from the Café- My last favorite person may sound a bit indulgent, but I don’t get out on a lot of book tours, so give me a break. After getting directions from Raghu the next morning for breakfast at the Mass Ave. Diner, I invariably got blown off course and ended up in this sweet café called Café Luna. Again, it’s nice when you can travel and find “your type of spot.” This means good, dark coffee with free refills and a sandwich where the bread is actually baked on site and the eggs actually taste fresh. I know I sound like a foodie right now, but I’d take a good breakfast over the risk of being pretentious any day of the week. So, I was being served by this woman who was really making my day. It was 7 in the morning and she had a huge smile, good recommendations, and was dance/skipping from table to table. Again, she was not pretentious or eccentric. Just happy to be having a good morning and making mine just a bit better. So she comes up to me at the end and asks if she could see the copy of Kensington Homestead that I’m looking through in preparation for my last stop for a lecture at Tufts University. She gives it a once over, tells me how much she thinks urban agriculture can change the world, and then says, “Good for you.” At this point I can’t tell if she’s saying this to me for reading it or for writing it. My face is not on the jacket or cover, and I’m not famous. But it was kind of a nice feeling for a second. So when she comes back, I ask her name. She tells me Kim. Then I ask her if she wants the book. I don’t need to embarrass her with every detail in case she reads this, but she was pretty darn excited that she was getting this book. She showed it to the cook, the hostess, the barista. As I said, I’m trying to not relish too much in this small brush with feeling like a celebrity for 15 minutes. But I think we live in a pretty cool world when someone who wrote a book about urban agriculture can garner such a response.
And I know that I live in a pretty cool world when I get to hit the road and meet such great people. So thanks Holly, Raghu, Kim and Trident Books for a good trip to Boston. See you all next time.