Saturday, May 23, 2009

Catching Up with Ethan Canin

Ethan Canin's novel America America, which John Updike crowned in the New Yorker "a complicated, many-layered epic of class, politics, sex, death, and social history," is just out in paperback. We caught up with the former local boy transplanted to Iowa to see how the midwest is treating him, and if he misses his former stomping grounds in the Richmond District.

Q- What neighborhood did you grow up in, and how long have you been a full-time Iowan now?

A- I grew up in two neighborhoods, the West Portal/St. Francis Wood area, near Commodore Sloat School, and Jordan Park. Then, in my late twenties, I bought a house as close as I could to Green Apple, in the inner Richmond. Lived there till we moved to Iowa City in 1999. Man, almost ten years ago! Living in Iowa City is a lot like living in a single neighborhood of San Francisco. That's how I think of it, at least. It's a lovely university town and the beautiful old houses are (relatively) cheap.

Q- What are the places you have to go to when you come back for a visit?

A- I love the The Legion of Honor, that whole spit of land out there looking back at the city, and then along the water beneath Land's End. I eat a carnitas burrito at every Gordo's I can park near. Walk at Crissy Field. I try to stop at Village Market to see if Molino Creek dry-farmed tomatoes are in, or at least some concord grapes. At some point I head down to see what the great people at the Writers' Grotto are up to. And now and then, like a real tourist, I take my kids to the Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory for a banana split, because when I was a kid that's where my father used to take my brother and me. The kids sense there's some nostalgia involved and of course they milk it for all they can.

Q- You had Danielle Steel as a creative writing teacher at Washington High School- did you learn anything from her that you practice today, or that you teach to your students at Iowa?

A- Danielle Steel was indeed my high school English teacher, but at University High, not Washington, a long time ago when it had just opened. She taught us to write every day, no matter what. Still the most important piece of advice I’ve heard.

Q- During your San Francisco days you were an avid softball player. Now that you're teaching at the Iowa Writer's Workshop, you have the honor of working with some of the most promising young writers in the country- can any of them hit to the opposite field?

A- Hey, the fiction writers just beat the poets in the annual Iowa Writers’ Workshop showdown, for the first time in memory. Weird that a group of poets can beat anyone in softball, but until this year they’d beaten the fiction writers for about ten years running. We of course did have a guy who can hit to the opposite field, a minor-league shortstop, in fact, who’d played, I think, in the old Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization. Still, we barely held them off in the last inning.

1 comment:

Samantha said...

Ah, I love Ethan Canin. I'm reading the amazing Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder right now and just found out that Canin was friends with Paul Farmer at Harvard medical school.
Multi-talented guy.