Meet Tupelo Hassman

You should really get to know Tupelo Hassman.  I mean, really.  If you have any interest in Nevada literature, or literature in general, she’s one you should know.  I first heard about her from the great Don Waters.  The second person to tell me I should know her was Willy Vlautin–who I have gone on the record as saying is one of the Nevada’s contemporary greats.  When you get unsolicited endorsements from two of Reno’s best writers like that, you simply have to look into it further.  If you are like me, you won’t be disappointed.

The first place to go is her website.  Take a look, it’ll give you a glimpse.   Be sure and read about her new book, girlchild.

Then you should read the short interview below.

Then you should tune into KUNR tomorrow morning for Beyond the Headlines with Michael Hagerty at 9:00AM to hear an interview with her.  Be sure to call in (1-866-723-KUNR) or email your questions in (headlines@kunr.org).

Finally, you should see her live and in person at her reading Saturday night at Sundance Books and Music.  More information here.

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Tell us about yourself.

I take constant dog inventory. I’ll interrupt any conversation to explain the number, size, and specific cutenesses of all dogs in the vicinity. If this Q&A were at a café, I would have done this ten times by now. I pay attention to dogs partly because they pay attention for us, they attend to this agreement we have with them with extreme honor no matter that the agreement is so old even carbon dating can’t reveal its age.

If the first thing we say about ourselves is revealing of how we self-define, then the dog introduction probably reads as very odd, but where else to begin? Perhaps there is nothing more important to be said about me than that I have an unnerving love of dogs, and all the creatures, really. (This might come from being one. My father’s nickname for me was “Creature.”) For example, I move snails so they won’t get stepped on. I was broken up with once for revealing this habit. I think the breaker-upper was right to be outraged, but not for the reason he gave. He thought this moving of snails was a stupid waste of time. What’s actually wrong about moving snails is the presumption that I know the snails’ fates. What’s wrong is getting in the snails’ business. Hubris! I am a person guilty of hubris (because I still move snails, and report on snails’ whereabouts to fellow travelers). Were I to start this answer over, that is how I would begin, with an admission of guilt about hubris, but starting over would feel like a lie.

Tell us about your new book, Girlchild.

girlchild is about growing up poor in America. I say “America” here, instead of “the United States” or “the U.S.”, because I’m talking about that old down-home America where it is still said this way without the humbling sting of awareness that there are many beautiful Americas out there that deserve the title at least as much as ours does. In that America, there are still ideas about the American Dream that sparkle in the sun and it is that dream that girlchild hopes to antagonize awake.

It is set in Reno.  What is your connection to Nevada?

girlchild is set near Reno, maybe the way a small piece of turquoise is set in a belt buckle. I lived near Reno off-and-on from when I was four until I was twelve and I’ve always had family there. Those are the surface connections.

How do you present the town in it?

Rory Dawn, the girlchild of girlchild, presents Reno as one might expect a teenager to present the place that has formed them. There’s a great deal of resentment, there’s very little concern for saving feelings. When girlchild was nearly done with her near-decade writing journey, I ran across a letter my mom had written and never sent. In it, she describes Nevada as this beautiful woman who, unlike California, had girded herself from an attack of population. It was an eye-opener to me to read this description that was so appreciative of what is unique to the state, especially after having been immersed in Rory Dawn’s quite opposite feelings about the place for so long. Nevertheless, Reno, to me, drives a hard bargain for her beauty.

How have people responded to your representation of Reno and Nevada as you travel the country?

There’s been so little fuss about what might be considered an unkind representation, that I am beginning to realize that, much as Rory Dawn’s community in girlchild, the Calle, is invisible (to society as a whole), so Reno has grown increasingly invisible, perhaps in the shadow of Las Vegas.

Do you have any favorite Nevada authors that you think really get the state right?  Any that were influential?

What I know about Nevada authors is shamefully little, though I did just hear great things about Willy Vlautin and I am going to be looking for his work at Sundance Books in Reno, when I take girlchild there. Sundance has been a wonderful partner on this strange journey and I’d bet good gambling money that they’ll have Vlautin’s catalog.

How do you think Girlchild fits into or adds to the greater body of Nevada literature?

Again, not a question I feel wholly educated to answer but I will say that girlchild is a commentary (if it is a commentary, but let’s pretend it is) on the U.S., not on any particular state. The Calle (the town near Reno where most of the novel takes place) could be any quasi-urban ghetto and speaks to me about what is most missing from our big picture in this affair we call a country. It goes back to the idea of invisibility.

Any future Nevada writing planned?

Not right now, but Nevada has a way of asserting itself.

What is “Hardbound: A Novel’s Life on the Road” about?

Hardbound: A Novel’s Life on the Road is a wee film I’m hoping to make about girlchild’s book tour. I don’t know of a single documentary about a book tour and so, had this idea to capture what happens when a new book comes out. I held a fundraiser to get a reasonable digital camera and now am learning to use it sink-or-swim style. I’m filming tour events whenever I’m allowed and talking to writers I find on the road with me about their experiences of releasing their work into the world and their experiences of receiving the new work of others, as audience. That’s the question of Hardbound, about the reception of the work after what, at least for me, was a long and mostly lonely enterprise. Now that I think about it, Hardbound might also be about invisibility. Who are these people, these wonderful people who get out from behind their computer screens and get out from behind their steering wheels and get out from behind all the rest of life’s barriers and show up to meet a newly-released book in person? I want to meet them, capture them on film, and then release them back into the wild.

What are you working on now?

In what’s left of my brain, I’m courting two ideas simultaneously. One is fun and light-hearted and a great dancer, and right now it’s called The Hassman Family Experience: A Fully-Interactive Country & Western Album (no relation) and is about a family of bootleggers on the run from the law. The other idea is serious and dark and more likely to break my heart, right now it’s called An Open Letter to Dan Bejar. Bejar is a popular musician and represents, to me, the way our culture hones in on celebrity genius. I want to look at how often that genius can lead to self-destruction, and how we, the audience, develop a relationship with that genius, regardless of what the genius thinks, or wants, or doesn’t want at all. There is much going on at those crossroads, especially when addiction barrels through them.

Of course, it’s easy to flirt with ideas when commitment isn’t yet possible because I’m still seeing girlchild off into the world.

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