Saturday, April 23, 2011

Stephen Singular

Stephen Singular, is a two-time New York Times bestselling author whose articles have appeared in New York Magazine, Psychology Today, Inside Sports, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and American Photo. From 1983 to 1987, he was a staff writer at The Denver Post and his first book, Talked To Death: The Life & Murder of Alan Berg (1987), was nominated for an Edgar Award. Since then, he’s published 18 more non-fiction books about high-profile crimes, social criticism, and business and sports biographies.

His new book is The Wichita Divide: The Murder of Dr. George Tiller and the Battle over Abortion.

Earlier this month I asked Singular what he was reading. His reply:
My wife Joyce and I are in a band that plays Latin jazz, standards, rock, and blues. She’s the singer and I’m the guitarist, so we’re always interested in stories about musicians. Last winter she read Just Kids by Patti Smith and suggested I give it a look. I did and really enjoyed the book, which focuses on Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel and the music scene in the East Village in the 1970s. It chronicles Smith’s relationship as a young woman with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, but the most striking part is that the narrative is almost entirely about their lives before she achieved fame as a poet/rock star. The majority of celebrity bios talk about what happened after someone became rich and famous, and that’s often accompanied by a lot of name-dropping.

Smith does drop a few well-known monikers, but this isn’t what gives the book its heart or substance. That comes from the unvarnished story of her and Mapplethorpe’s struggle with obscurity, poverty, doubt, and confusion, essentially over what kind of creative endeavors to be involved in. Early on they both conceived of themselves as “artists,” but knocked around for about a decade before finding something they could do that brought in an audience and allowed them to make a living. In addition to everything else the book offers it’s inspirational for any aspiring musician, writer, etc. The couple’s refusal to give up when they had no idea what they were doing -- and sometimes not enough to eat -- gives the book a grit and an honesty that raise it well above the average rock bio.

As the pages accumulate, you realize that the book is really Smith’s extended love letter to Mapplethorpe, who died at 42 in 1989. Their story will stir memories in every reader who remembers what it’s like to be young and to have freedom and to fall in love for the first time, when you think that will be enough to protect you from what life will later send your way.
Learn more about The Wichita Divide and its author at Stephen Singular's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: The Wichita Divide.

--Marshal Zeringue