Robert Russell and Rae Miller Read at SOL Literary Series
By Jenny Purdue
When Margaret Atwood’s book, Payback, was just out, she queried Robert (Rusty) Russell, “So tell me, what’s a nice economist like you doing here on radio?” Russell was conducting an interview with Atwood for his series, “Radio Literature” out of Madison, Wisconsin, as he has done for 15 years. And, yes, Russell was also a government economist in Wisconsin before retiring and moving to San Miguel de Allende.
Rae Miller came to San Miguel as an artist, and her strength as a writer developed here through a series of classes she took with a master writer and writing coach. Her literary nonfiction story, Better Lovers than Parents, a memoir-in-progress excerpt, was published in the October 2014 issue of SOL: English Writing in Mexico.
Miller and Russell will read on March 16 at the SOL Literary Series, from 5 to 6pm at Restaurant Paprika, Ancha de San Antonio 7. Russell will present selections from his chapbook, Witness, and Miller will read the selection published in SOL, which has as subject matter her father’s death while having gone missing during a Cold War business trip to Europe. He was an aeronautics engineer with top secret clearance, and the family moved every few years. The peripatetic lifestyle Miller grew up with—caused by her father’s frequent reassignments—has continued for her into adulthood. She’s lived in 35 cities, towns, and villages in the United States and Norway, and on a ship. Miller’s memoir is “… about my family and the hardships and emotional upheaval caused by my father’s career. He was constantly away on business trips, sometimes completely out of touch,” Miller says. Because of the frequent moves, Miller and her brother were always the “new kids,” and had a hard time fitting in. “We lived near Air Force bases, but not on them,” she says. “I felt like an outsider.”
In addition to Margaret Atwood, Russell says some of the most memorable Radio Literature programs he produced were with Richard Russo (Empire Falls, Nobody’s Fool, and others); Amitava Ghosh (The Glass Palace); and Eva Hunter (A little Mormon Girl; The Council of Women; The Lord of the Dolls). Russell began writing as a child in elementary school with the only medium at hand: crayons. Much later, he says, he wrote what he “didn’t consider to be poetry—just unrestrained writing.” A few decades passed, and Russell found a reception for his writing in the Poetry Slam phenomenon. Poetry Slam has changed since then, Russell says, but at the time the discipline it imposed was both strict and invaluable, in that participants were limited to three minutes to create a poetic world using only one’s voice and body.
And one didn’t need an M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts) to participate in Poetry Slam, or publications in literary journals where only M.F.A.s were accepted. Russell says. “We could leapfrog that, and perform to a crowd in a bar or theater that was larger than the coterie that actually read those journals which scorn mongrels.”
Jenny Purdue is an intern for SOL: English Writing In Mexico.