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50 Miles Author Sheryl St. Germain’s Insight About Eight-Week Book Tour Collision With COVID-19 Pandemic

I started planning an eight-week book tour for Fifty Miles in early 2019. With the help and generosity of friends and colleagues, I’d managed to put together a tour for 2020 that would span nine cities and seven states. Fifty Miles is a memoir about addiction, grief and healing that focuses on my son Gray, who died in 2014 of a heroin overdose, and my own struggles with substance abuse and recovery. I knew it was going to be difficult to read from it, night after night, but it felt important to spread some compassionate and what I hoped would be read as thoughtful lyricism about those we love who fall into the river of addiction. In conversation with a fellow poet, Ed Hirsch, who lost his own young son to drugs and wrote a poetry book inspired by him, Ed said to me that we can’t market books like these, rather we have to hope that they will fall into the hands of those that need them. I hoped this book tour might help find those hands.
 
The tour started with a book launch in early spring in Pittsburgh, my current home, and a reading at nearby Wilkes-Barre, home of Etruscan. I then flew to New York City for another reading. A close friend of my son, the artist, Morgan Everhart, came to this reading, which made it especially meaningful. We had used a painting she did inspired by Gray on the cover of a book of my poems that had come out in 2018, The Small Door of Your Death (Autumn House).
  
On March 1 we left for the first (driving) leg of the tour, with my generous husband Teake driving. We knew about the virus, but none of my events had been cancelled yet, and we hadn’t yet realized how bad it was going to get. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs was still planning to hold its conference in San Antonio, where I was scheduled to do a signing with Etruscan for Fifty Miles, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. Two days later we were in Dallas, and things had quickly worsened. I had a reading at a bookstore there, and spent a few days with old friends and former students. I lived for 13 years in Dallas and spent my first teaching years there. I was moved to see some of the very first students I taught in the audience at the reading.  Meanwhile, more disturbing information was coming forward about COVID-19 and its danger to the elderly. We were headed to San Antonio to do the signing, then our plan was to drive to New Orleans where we had just placed my mother in an assisted living facility. We planned to spend a couple weeks in New Orleans helping my mother, selling her house and hosting an estate sale before I participated in the annual Tennessee Williams Festival. 
 
But as we readied to leave Dallas for San Antonio, I began to have second thoughts. What if I picked something up at the conference and brought it to my mother? I decided the risk was too great, and with sadness informed Etruscan that I was going to skip AWP. Instead, we headed straight to Louisiana.
 
We had lots of time in the car, while driving, to listen to NPR and catch up on what was happening with the virus. Although there weren’t many cases in New Orleans yet, I began to think about how quickly it might spread there. Having been born and raised in New Orleans, I knew how important huge festivals like Mardi Gras were, but also that there were lots of spring festivals where there would be large gatherings of people. And I knew how my community there loved to drink and party and be in large crowds. As of this date Louisiana is one of the three hot spots for the virus in the U.S. with 9,150 cases and 310 deaths as of this writing, the majority of which are in the New Orleans area.
 
We arrived in New Orleans March 8. We sold my mother’s house on March 11, and the family went out to eat lunch—raw oysters, gumbo and po-boys—with my mother at our favorite restaurant. Meanwhile, emails from Georgia, Illinois, Iowa and Maryland slowly trickled in saying that all of my events had been cancelled. 
 
A couple of days after we closed on the house, my mother’s assisted living facility went on lock down. We were not going to be able to see her for the forseeable future. We would learn later that a resident and staff member both tested positive for the virus, and the former would die. We hosted a two-day estate sale that weekend for my mother’s possessions, which included thousands of books and old records. I wore gloves and tried to be as careful as possible during the sale, but there were times when 40 or so people seemed crammed into my mother’s tiny house. I gave away a few copies of Fifty Miles to a few special people who took books and were interested in learning about my mother because her book collection was so vast and rich.
 
During the estate sale I received a communication from the organizers of the Tennessee Williams Festival that they were cancelling the festival. Meanwhile the number of confirmed cases in New Orleans was increasing drastically, and I was worried about our getting stick and being stuck in New Orleans, unable to see my mother, and in an old, tiny house with almost no furniture, still lots of books, but also heaps of rat and roach poison sprinkled everywhere. We packed up what we could, including all the copies of Fifty Miles I had hoped to sell, and started the two-day drive home. The first night on the road my husband developed a cough and 101 fever. We pushed through the next day, sharing driving. We both fell ill with flu-like symptoms for two weeks, but tested negative for COVID-19, and are feeling better now.
 
What started as a journey to spread the word about the epidemic of drug overdoses, inspired by personal experience and my son’s death, morphed into a journey dominated by the fear of the growing epidemic of a new virus strain. For now, my words of grief, healing and recovery are muted by a currently more aggressive disease. I’m grateful to Etruscan, and all the friends and colleagues who were willing to help try to get this book into the hands of those that need it, and hopeful that in the future this virus will lessen its grip on us and the book will fall into more hands of those that need it.
 
If you’re interested in learning more about Fifty Miles, take a look at this recent piece published in D Magazine.

Sheryl St. Germain is a poet and essayist whose work has received numerous awards. Her most recent books include Fifty Miles (Etruscan Press, 2020), and a poetry collection, The Small Door of Your Death (Autumn House Press, 2018). Sheryl directed the MFA program in Creative Writing at Chatham University in Pittsburgh for 14 years, and is co-founder of the Words Without Walls program.


Topographies named Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Finalist


Etruscan Press is proud to announce that Stephen Benz’s 2019 collection of travel essays, Topographies, has been named a Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Finalist. Formerly a writer for Tropic, the Sunday magazine of the Miami Herald, he now teaches professional writing at the University of New Mexico. Two of his essays have been selected for Best American Travel Writing (2003, 2015). 

New Release from Etruscan

We are pleased to announce the publication of Triptych. Here, between two covers, are three books: The Three-Legged World by Peter Grandbois, In Time by James McCorkle, and Orpheus & Echo by Robert Miltner. Although it may seem to be the case, Triptych is not the product of a prior agreement; these three books, submitted separately by their authors, speak to one another and, in doing so, spoke to our editors. For this reason, Triptych is more than poetry, it is a tribute to the ancient communal nature of poetry. 


AWP 20: An Intimate Experience

by Jason Miller
The Wilkes University/Etruscan Press booth at AWP 20 San Antonio.

A dozen Etruscan staff and authors arrived in San Antonio, TX on Wednesday, March 4 for the 53rd annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Bookfair and Conference. The event was held from Thursday, March 5 through Saturday, March 7 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown San Antonio. The keynote address was given by Helena María Viramontes on Thursday, March 5. Viramontes is the author of The Moths and Other Stories, Under the Feet of Jesus, and Their Dogs Came with Them. She is a USA Ford Fellow in Literature, has received the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, a Sundance Institute Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship, a Spirit Award from the California Latino Legislative Caucus, and a 2017 Bellagio Center Residency from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Several Etruscan authors participated in panels, readings, and book signings. In partnership with Wilkes University, Etruscan co-hosted a booth on the Bookfair floor, offering book signings by Stephen Benz, Topographies; Laurie Jean Cannady, Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul; Robert Eastwood, Romer; and Tim Seibles, Fast Animal and One Turn Around the Sun.

Etruscan poet Tim Seibles and Etruscan memoirist Laurie Jean Cannady participated in the Saturday panel “Talking Loud, Talking Soft,” exploring the challenge the recent resurgence of white nationalism presents to African-American and Mexican-American writers. 
Tim Seibles and Laurie Jean Cannady sign books at the Wilkes University/Etruscan Press booth at AWP 20.
Wilkes University alum Amye Archer presented her new book co-edited with Loren Kleinman, If I Don't Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings. Two school shooting survivors also joined the conversation for a very frank and emotional discussion of what needs to be done to stop future atrocities from occurring.
 
Etruscan also co-sponsored the AWP Old School Slam and Open Mic on both Thursday and Friday nights. Over 30 poets attended and performed their work. 
 
One word echoed above the cancellations, absences, elbow and boot bumps that abounded during AWP20 in San Antonio: intimacy. Many repeat attendees I spoke with, especially those who have had the pleasure and privilege of enjoying AWP year after year, remarked at how similar AWP20 was to conferences of the past, before the event had grown to what it has become. Despite everything, those who did attend were treated to a personal conference experience unlike any of the past few years.
 
Etruscan author Robert Eastwood remarked: “Those of us who attended the AWP20––whether foolishly or with grim determination to evade the pandemic––were rewarded with a diminished but still energetic gathering of literary souls. I had the opportunity to talk with Philip Brady in the flesh, see Bill Schneider once more, and meet Jason Miller. As always, I came home with an armful of books, several from Etruscan. Now I am sheltering in place and reading.”
 
Stephen Benz, author of the Foreword Reviews Indie Book of the Year nominated essay collection Topographies said: “I had been looking forward to attending AWP in San Antonio primarily so that I could finally meet the Etruscan staff face to face. It was great to get to know people in person and to experience the camaraderie of Etruscans. I was also impressed by the Wilkes community, as current and former participants in the program stopped by the Etruscan booth to chat and catch up. It was a great vibe, and I left San Antonio still more grateful for my association with the press.”
 
The 54th Annual Conference and Bookfair is scheduled from March 3 through March 6, 2021 in Kansas City, MO.
 
Jason Miller earned a M.A. in Playwriting and is pursuing a M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Wilkes University, where he is a graduate assistant with Etruscan Press.
 

About Etruscan Press:

Housed at Wilkes University and partnering with Youngstown State University, Etruscan is a non-profit literary press working to produce and promote books that nurture the dialogue among genres, cultures, and voices.

For the latest Etruscan events, please visit our website.
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