To fulfil a requirement for my BA in English, I registered for a class in Irish-American literature. The professor assigned several projects; each project was worth a certain number of points (yes, kind of high-schoolish). One of the projects was a question and answer panel, aka a moderated discussion.
Five class members, including me, had to come up with questions about an assigned book, questions we hoped our classmates would make an effort to answer. The book had been written by an author I never heard of. It was a collection of stories about fellows who grew up in the projects in or near Boston and later were drafted and sent to Viet Nam. The stories were interesting, but not something I would read on my own.
However, when I read the author’s bio on the back of the book, I noticed he lived in a town on Cape Cod. Hmm, I thought. Maybe I should do a little research. I tried to get the author’s telephone number from the information operator, but she had no record of his having telephone service in that town.
Not giving up, I called the publisher. The woman I spoke with said she couldn’t give out his address, but she thought he lived in the town indicated on the author bio. She told me to call the information operator to get his phone number. I told her I already had tried that, and apparently, he no longer lived there. “Try Brighton,” she suggested. I did and I got his phone number.
I called and spoke with the author’s wife. “My husband has gone to the store,” she told me. “But he would be thrilled to talk to someone about his book.” I called back an hour later and talked to him for forty-five minutes.
The author seemed pleased to learn we would be discussing his book in class. I had read that characters in the stories were based on real people. I told him it was too bad about the character who had survived Viet Nam only to die in a motorcycle accident later on. “Oh,” he said, “that part really is fiction.” The fellow the character was based on hadn’t died. In fact, he had been the best man at the author’s recent wedding.
At the end of the discussion, each panel member had to turn in a list of five or six questions that he or she may or may not have had the chance to ask. In addition to my list of questions, I wrote up a page and a half about my conversation with the author.
Before the professor arrived, I told my classmates I had spoken with the author. A few of them couldn’t believe I had the audacity to track him down. I guess that was the difference between being twenty-one and being an older, nontraditional student. At twenty-one, I would have thought about contacting an author, but I wouldn’t have had the nerve. A half zillion years later, I figured I had nothing to lose by trying.
The majority of my classmates had positive reactions to my announcement. However, one person seemed to think I was trying to earn extra points for the project. During the discussion, the “chairperson” I informally appointed (yes, I did), turned to me and said, “Don’t you ask another question. You already have enough points.”