The Foundry is our new literary reading series, just launched this spring. Our second installment is this month, July 30th, at the delightful Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill. Our readers for Number 2 are Jim Ruland, Uzodinma Okehi, Juliet Escoria, Jean Guerrero, Aaron Burch, and today’s feature: Scott McClanahan.
Scott McClanahan in a three piece suit
In a recent feature at The A/V Club, here’s how they introduced Scott:
Scott McClanahan might be today’s best-known indie press writer. He also makes short films and his readings are some of the most engaging pieces of performance art to ever hit your local bookstore. Perhaps best known for Crapalachia: A Biography Of Place (Two Dollar Radio) and the more recent Hill William (New York Tyrant), McClanahan’s short-story collections function as pseudo-memoirs with a crackling electricity rarely found in literary fiction.
The first time I met Scott, a few years ago, he was visiting San Diego with his wife (fellow Foundry reader Juliet Escoria), and he performed a reading organized by the great Matt E. Lewis. I had never read any of his work, but his writing’s legacy is significant and I knew enough about it to have some level of anticipation. However, during the reading, there was a football game on the bar’s TV screens, and let’s just assume it was a Chargers game, just to properly set the scene. Irritated yet?
I felt somewhat unsettled and without purpose at the event: I wasn’t working or reading, I came alone, and everyone else had already sat down with the people they arrived with. I just kind of stood nervously off to the side in the back, barely able to hear the readings over the low-grade noise at the bar.
When Scott took the stage, maybe a ref made a poor call and the Chargers fans at the bar booed. Maybe they were booing at us, trying to appreciate literature instead of their sports. But their noise was no longer low-grade.
And then Scott sang.
Partway through, he climbed down from the stage, mid-reading, still reading, and passed out homemade fudge (which connected to the story he’d been reading), and even took his offering back amongst the football fans. He chanted a refrain, no mic, in the back, by the bar, by the Chargers fans, and the entire place fell silent. We’d all stood up by now, passing the container of fudge around. Nobody sat with their pre-packaged friends. That no-purpose, adrift feeling vanished and I felt part of something: Not just inspired but responsible somehow. To this day, I wonder if I imagined this experience, or if memory has colored it in a more profound light than it was in the moment, but that day is Scott McClanahan to me.
Unfortunately for our tastebuds, there’s no tie-in with fudge in his latest book, a graphic novel freshly published this month by our darlings, Two Dollar Radio, one of the finest and gutsiest small presses of our day.
I read The Incantations of Daniel Johnston in a single day, carrying it around with me and reading it whenever I could sneak a minute. McClanahan’s writing is so propulsive that I flew through it faster than I probably should have, given how intricate and compelling each Ricardo Cavolo illustration is. It might be the kind of book we all read twice. At least.
Incantations is sometimes troubling, sometimes comforting. It seems to both tackle and encourage our collective curiosity, myth-like, of Daniel Johnston’s life. The illustrations are grotesque at times, but the story reminds us something both forgiving and unsettling: This could’ve easily been you.
As for Scott’s non-illustrated fiction, here’s a short story we love, published online at Guernica: Psychiatrists and Mountain Dew. This story kicks off his brilliant short story collection Hill William.
We can’t promise fudge at this Saturday’s Foundry reading, but we can promise no football game on any TVs (sorry?). Come join us 7/30 at 7:00 PM at Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill to hear Scott read, along with Aaron Burch, Jean Guerrero, Uzodinma Okehi, Jim Ruland, and Juliet Escoria.
Scott McClanahan wrote The Incantations of Daniel Johnston and The Sarah Book. He lives in West Virginia. You can buy his books here: The Incantations of Daniel Johnston, Crapalachia, and Hill William.
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by Julia Dixon Evans
cover image by Juliet Escoria