Saturday, September 12, 2015

Jay Atkinson

Jay Atkinson, called “the bard of New England toughness” by Men’s Health magazine, is the author of eight books. Caveman Politics was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program selection and a finalist for the Discover Great New Writers Award; Ice Time was a Publishers Weekly Notable Book of the Year and a New England Bookseller’s Association bestseller; and Legends of Winter Hill spent seven weeks on the Boston Globe hardcover bestseller list. He has written for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Newsday, Portland Oregonian, Men’s Health, Boston Sunday Herald, and Boston Globe magazine, among other publications. Atkinson teaches writing at Boston University and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times. He grew up hearing Hannah Duston's story in his hometown of Methuen, Massachusetts, which was part of Haverhill until 1726. He lives in Methuen, Massachusetts.

Atkinson's new book is Massacre on the Merrimack: Hannah Duston's Captivity and Revenge in Colonial America.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
This time of year is re-reading season for me. Right now I am reading Maggie Cassidy by Jack Kerouac, since I will be teaching Jack Kerouac and the Beats this fall at Boston University. In this vastly underrated novel, Kerouac is able to capture the bittersweet feelings of first love, as well as the quicksilver of a young, shy, Franco-American football hero’s senior year in high school. He does this by matching the romanticism of Wolfe and Saroyan with his own investigation into what he called “spontaneous prose,” resulting in a book that makes me feel nostalgic for that time of life when I read it. That’s about a big a compliment as I can think of.

I am also reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory for the quality of his prose and, again, the writer’s ability to capture a moment in the past with an image, a smell, or even something as fleeting as a certain kind of tree in bloom. Among other things, I am working on a book on classic film, and recently read and enjoyed Five Came Back by Mark Harris, a fine nonfiction narrative book about the WWII experiences of Hollywood directors John Ford, Frank Capra, George Stevens, William Wyler, and John Huston. It’s impossible to imagine one of today’s famous directors volunteering to shoot combat footage over a period of months, or even years, in a place like Iraq or Syria. This fine book captures a different time, and a different sort of professional.

In late summer, I usually read Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon; Good-bye to All That by Sassoon’s friend, the poet Robert Graves; Facey Romford’s Hounds by R. S. Surtees; and Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. It’s like visiting with four amazing storytellers (and stand-up guys), all in the same month.

Soon I will be reading the galleys of a new biography of my late friend and mentor, the novelist Harry Crews, written by Ted Geltner. The University of Georgia Press will publish it this spring. I say a Hail Mary for Harry every night, thinking of him as a sort of honorary Catholic, he so admired Catholic writers like Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor. I was proud to know Harry, and I miss him.
Visit Jay Atkinson's website.

My Book, The Movie: Massacre on the Merrimack.

--Marshal Zeringue