Tuesday, March 06, 2012

In which I humbly acknowledge the smarts of a Towson U. English major

The Greatest Show is launched. Reveled at the mega-conference for writers, AWP (more on that to come), and tonight I'm home after a reading on the campus where I teach. Many friends in the room, and students, and former students. One of the best things about the night? An English major in our secondary education track introduced me and the book. I had no idea what she'd say, but she nailed it. The book is exactly what she says. We make 'em pretty good at Towson U.

Here's her intro: 

Michael Downs is an English Professor here at Towson University. His first book, House of Good Hope, won the 2007 River Teeth prize for literary nonfiction, and today he’s going to be reading for us from his new collection of short stories; The Greatest Show, which was inspired by the famous 1944 Hartford circus fire. I personally had never heard of the fire before reading the book, and wasn’t sure what to expect from it.

The first story, Ania, immediately caught my attention and pulled at my heart. I found myself immersed in the life of a hard working Polish woman, who was new to America, and desperate to give her 3 year old son a happy life. So desperate, in fact, that she stole tickets to the circus from her employer. Little did she know that the decision to steal those tickets would change her life, and the life of her son, Teddy, forever.

Although the fire inspired the stories, once submerged in the book I found that the fire wasn’t the main focus. It was about people; Ania, Teddy, Nick, Franco, Lena, and so many other characters were left with scars from the circus that day. But without the fire, Nick and Lena may have never married and Franco would have never been born. Without the fire, Suzanne would have never gone to the strange woman with the scar, Mrs. Liszak, when she was in need.
In the stories, Michael Downs takes us from the circus fire in 1944, to September 11th 2001, and after. He shows us the connections that exist between events, and between people, and that we all live each day without realizing that we have our own role in the greatest show.

Thanks, Toni Townsend.


Valerie Hartman said...

I can't believe I missed your reading! I must have missed all announcements. I hope you had a great time and I look forward to reading your latest book. Dang it!

Michael Downs said...

Hi, Valerie. Thanks for the support! You can catch another reading at Barnes and Noble in Charles Village, or a non-reading panel discussion at this year's City Lit (and I'll be reading nonfiction later this month, too). I've got the list of events on the blog, over on the left margin. Just scroll down a bit.

I hope all is well. I've been following your blog, and even tried that "Who do you write like?" web site. More to come on that right here on this blog.

Valerie Hartman said...

Still waiting on the "Who do you write like?" blog post.Your book is up next, looking forward to it.

Michael Downs said...

I'm waiting to write it, too! A few assignments for other blogs took some of my blogging mojo, but probably there's a little mojo remaining in a jar on that top shelf in the pantry. ...