Red Earth MFA welcomes visiting authors for a reading 

click to enlarge ©TOM FITZSIMMONS
  • ©Tom Fitzsimmons

Massachusetts-based poet and memoirist Richard Hoffman and Ohio author and poet Michael Henson join Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth master of fine arts (MFA) creative writing program for a free live reading 7 p.m. Thursday at The Paramount OKC, 701 W. Sheridan Ave. A book signing will follow.

His fourth book of poetry, Noon until Night, was published in April. He released his memoir Love & Fury in 2014. He also is former chairman of the PEN New England literary community.

Hoffman recently spoke with Oklahoma Gazette about his decision to become a writer and his appearance Friday at Okemah’s Woody Guthrie Folk Festival.

Oklahoma Gazette: How did this Oklahoma City reading come to be?

Richard Hoffman: I met [Red Earth MFA program director] Jeanetta Calhoun Mish at a working class studies conference some years ago at Stony Brook University in New York.

Then we began to read each other’s work and began to appreciate it. Then I saw her at a different conference years later and she said, “Oh, we have to have you out sometime,” and I said I’d love to do that.

OKG: How long have you been writing?

Hoffman: I’d say it started when I was 16 or 17, and first you have to figure out what that means. You know you love to read and you’d love to be one of the people to [write]. In the back of your mind, you think, “Well, maybe I have something to say; I don’t know.” …

You can educate yourself by reading, and reading everything you can get your hands on. It’s pretty indiscriminate at first — just gobbling up anything: poetry, essays, memoirs, science fiction, comedy. Eventually, you figure out what it is you like to do, then you start to mimic those who are doing it and eventually you figure out what’s yours. And that takes years — it takes a long, long time. It took me into my 30s. But at the center of it was this conviction that this is what I was supposed to be doing.

OKG: You’re doing a poetry reading Wednesday-Sunday at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah. Literary and music worlds seem to be converging in some ways. What was your reaction when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature?

Hoffman: I thought that it was about time. I was the co-founder of an award that PEN New England gives every two years. We give an award for song lyrics of literary excellence.

We put together a jury [of] … Bono, Rosanne Cash, Paul Simon, Smokey Robinson, Paul Muldoon and Salman Rushdie. They all got together for the first one, and they called me and said, “We’re stuck; we’re deadlocked. Can we give the award to two people?” I said, “Well, who are they?” They were Chuck Berry and Leonard Cohen, so I can understand how you would get deadlocked; those are two very different artists. ...

These guys are writers. They’re amazing, amazing writers. They found their way to a large popular audience, and in fact, they’re doing more to promote literacy in American culture than anybody else. So when they finally picked Dylan, I thought, “Well, we were ahead of the curve there by about seven years.” It’s a good thing they finally caught up.

Print headline: Writing rhythm, Poet, essayist and memoirist Richard Hoffman measures songwrtiting’s literary weight.

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