This past week, the Deschutes Public Library Foundation announced its second lineup for the popular Author! Author! series. In its sophomore year, the series is rolling out some of the best and most entertaining writers in the country.
Leading the pack is Sherman Alexie, who burst onto the literary scene in 1993 with his collection of funny and heartbreaking stories, "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven." Several stories from that book—along with tales from his own hardscrabble life growing up on a reservation near Spokane—made up the indie film Smoke Signals.
At times, Alexie's writing is Hemingway terse; other times, it is poetic with its details and light touches of beauty. But throughout, Alexie is a master storyteller, a talent that has become increasingly showcased as he has toured lecture and book reading circuits. His readings are not polite tea-and-cucumber sandwich affairs, but part Richard Pryor standup electricity, part matter-of-fact confessions—which is to say, do not expect feel-good, politically-correct presentation. Funny and affronting, lambasting his mostly "stuff white people like" audience, Alexie is even smarter and funnier in person than his already brilliant on-the-page prose—a quality that increasingly places him as perhaps the most vital spokesperson for one of most marginalized populations in America. It is a characterization he seems to bristle at, but also one that millions champion him for. (Friday, Jan. 24)
Serving a somewhat similar role—as a spokesperson, that is—Rebecca Skloot's remarkable 2010 investigative book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" details how the medical industry—namely, John Hopkins—exploited a young, sick black woman, and about how her cells far outlived the scope of her life, remarkably contributing to research and vaccinations for polio—all, of course, without any acknowledgement of the woman herself.
Remarkably, Skloot's book is sensitive yet searing—and, the writer herself, in her inaction with Lacks' survivors, is heartfelt and extraordinary in its reach of America's ethical history. If you want to double down on indulgence: Download Terry Gross' "Fresh Air" interview with Skloot. (Thursday, Nov. 14)
The third author of the series, Cheryl Strayed, enjoyed a remarkable break-out year in 2012, winning the Barnes & Noble Discover Award, the Indie Choice Award, The Oregon Book Award, and The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award for her dark, funny and poignant memoir about her post-heroin use, post-mother's death 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Currently Reese Witherspoon is filming the movie adaptation of the book "Wild." (Sunday, March 16)
Rounding out the top-shelf team of authors, Geraldine Brooks is the toughest to categorize. Although most of her reporting (primarily for the New Yorker) and her novels often explore themes of struggle and overcoming (often through female characters), each takes on wildly different and far flung historical settings, from a 17th Century Native American attending Harvard in "Caleb's Crossing," to the role that the novel "Little Women" played during the Civil War in her Pulitzer Prize winning "March," to wartime in Sarajevo in "People of the Book." What Brooks brings to each book is a balance of compassionate wonderment and journalistic stridence. (Thursday, June 19)