As Jeff Hammond read from his latest book last Thursday night at DPC, you could tell from his nuanced and careful dialect that this was a man who spent a lot of time with his writing. Hammond says the book, Small Comforts: Essays at Middle Age, “addresses not being young anymore, but not being quite really old.”
Hammond doesn’t gloss over his words. “The first time I met Jeff Hammond he said the F-word in front of my 10-month old daughter,” said Jennifer Cognard-Black when introducing Hammond to the stage. She explained that she noticed this not because she was offended, but because Hammond wasn’t treating her like a junior colleague, but instead as a fellow writer. He is “a man who’s frank, informal, relaxed, witty and personal.” He’s also a man who has been published in over 80 essays in many creative writing journals, and won the prestigious Pushcart Prize. This is his third published book.
The chapter he read focused on Hammond as a boy, and told of what his relationship with his father went through when they joined the Indian Guides together, which was a YMCA program to encourage young boys and their fathers to form closer bonds, similar to the Boy Scouts. Hammond said that as a boy he had thought to himself that by joining the Indian Guides, “Maybe dad and I could be good Americans by emulating those original good Americans.” However, his father and he were soon disillusioned by the Indian Guides’ veneer of Native American culture over what seemed like overtly religious themes, musing whether the Indian Guides weren’t “christian propagandists in buckskin.” Hammond said he learned from this experience that “to do some things right, you have to be alone.”
Hammond says that although he is writing about himself, he is using the self to get to something else. “Writing, for me, is a way to connect with people.”
“I loved that Jeff’s writing was never Hallmark,” said Zack Pajak. “It was real life.”
Hammond was the last VOICES reader for the Fall 2008 semester, which has included artists-in-residence Sharon Wyrrick and Jane Ingram Allen discussing their art project, “Bitten by Butterflies” and Ana Maria Spagna reading from her “Shack Stories” about the time she lived in a shack with several friends. “We look for a mix of people who are accomplished writers,” said Karen Leona Anderson, who arranges the VOICES readings. The next reader will be poet Ann Buechner on January 22nd.
After his reading, Hammond went over to a small group of people who had stayed and began peppering his phrases with the f-word. This wasn’t a man who was afraid to speak his mind, albeit with his careful and nuanced dialect.