Tuesday, August 31, 2010
After earning his master's degree from Lewis and Clark College in 1988, Matt set off on his teaching career. After about a decade he became dissatisfied with the life he was living and moved to the Oregon Coast to take a teaching job at Neskowin Valley School, an independent country day school. The manager of the 600-acre Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge was the father of one of his students, and he asked Matt if he would be interested in the caretaker's position at the refuge, which offered the use of a small house in exchange for performing work at the refuge, a former dairy farm in dire need of restoration.
"The opportunity to become caretaker of this refuge was the greatest thing that ever happened to me," Matt says. "It was the opportunity to get connected to the land, to get myself physically and mentally in shape." It also gave him time to write. And, when not hacking lots and lots of Himalayan blackberries from the refuge property, Matt began to write, working on his own books and writing for a variety of publications.
In 2003 he launched Nestucca Spit Press. Matt has written five books, including his most recent, Gimme Refuge: The Education of a Caretaker, and has edited several, including Citadel of the Spirit: Oregon's Sesquicentennial Anthology. In 2004 he realized that he was ready to teach again, that it was all coming together -- the environmentalism, the teaching, and the writing -- and since then he's been teaching English and journalism at Newport High School. This fall he will be teaching a photography course (using cameras with film, I think!) -- the first time in 20 years the class has been offered at NHS. Matt left his caretaker's position at the refuge after losing a fight to limit public access to the grounds.
Matt was awarded the 2009 Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award from Oregon Literary Arts for his contributions on behalf of Oregon's literary and historical legacy.
About writing, Matt says, "Work hard, tap your passions for material, embrace solitude and put your ass to the chair are the only credos that seem to have worked for me." Matt is all about passion, and when you read his books and columns, his passions are abundantly clear. Speaking about the new editor at the high school's paper he says, "She seemd fired up. That's what I like about her and other people who share this same trait...They get fired up. Whatever is not in their vocabulary." I am pretty sure that "whatever" is not in Matt's vocabulary either.
Willy moved to Portland and founded the band Richmond Fontaine in 1994. The band (whose name comes from an ex-pat hippie living in Mexico who rescued a bandmate in his pickup truck when his car broke down in the middle of the Baja California desert) has produced nine albums and a handful of live recordings and EPs. He chose Portland because he wanted to be in a "gentle" big city, and he wanted to be close enough to Reno that he could drive back in a day. After he moved here he became entranced by the Portland music scene. He also became very fond of the Portland Meadows racetrack, and spends a lot of his time writing there.
In his latest book, Lean on Pete, told through the eyes of 15-year-old Charley Thompson, a boy left to fend for himself by his wayward single father, Portland Meadows is the setting for much of the action. At the track, Charley befriends an aging quarter horse named Lean on Pete.
Willy has published two previous novels, The Motel Life and Northline -- Northline comes packaged with its own soundtrack on CD. His books feature people with an edge, hardscrabble people living in the shadows, and he shows an empathy toward people whom life has beaten up and broken down. One reviewer said this about Willy's writing: "The guys writes like the secret love child of Raymond Carver and Flannery O'Connor -- just plain, true, tough, irony-free, heartrending American fiction about people living in the third-world sections of our country." When I read Willy's books I often want to shake his characters and say no don't go there, because you can often see they're heading down a bad path, but you can't stop watching. And caring.
Willy says that "writing stories is what I do to keep my head straight, much more than caring about whether they get published."
Like I said at the beginning, these guys can't help it; they're both born to write and to tell us stories. And lucky us, they're both reading tonight at Broadway Books at 7 pm! So we hope you can join us. Come early to get a seat!