Q&A With Raymond Luczak on “Compassion Michigan”

Raymond Luczak, author of Compassion, Michigan

What was the first story with which this book started? When was that story written and what inspired it?

I suddenly remembered the fact that I’d truly loved the taste of orange sherbet at an ice cream parlor across the street from Carlson’s Supermarket in Ironwood, Michigan; I must’ve been seven or eight at the time. That place felt magical, and I think I was in there maybe two or three times if that, and how peculiar that I couldn’t remember anyone serving those magnificent scoops of sherbet. At the same time I began to think about the neighborhood a few blocks south of where I grew up, so imagining a 33-year-old woman who ran the ice cream parlor living in that part of the neighborhood flowed together fairly quickly. After finishing “Stella, Gone” in late March 2017, I realized that if I did some historical research about actual locations around Ironwood, I could put together a new book of short stories that would be somewhat inspired by Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, which had been published in 1919.

How many of these stories are inspired from real-life events/experiences?

Aside from the fact that all of these stories take place in actual locations that I knew around Ironwood while following the general history of mining and/or downtown developments around the city, the book is truly fictional with a few exceptions. The experience of growing up Deaf in a large hearing family is definitely there in the book’s first and last stories, and there is a story somewhat inspired by an aunt who had a child born out of wedlock (but there was a happy ending unlike in the book), but that’s about it. “The Ways of Men” was directly inspired by reading in a memoir somewhere a very brief description of a trans man who regularly rode the streetcar in Ironwood during the 1920s. Everyone knew that he was trans but it didn’t seem to be an issue. No one knew his name, and his mere existence on the streetcar was all the information available that the author had about him, but I was immediately struck by the notion of a trans man living rather openly back in those glory days of Ironwood. Whoa! I couldn’t resist imagining everything else about him.

Most of these stories are about women/female-led characters. Any particular reasons for this focus on the female gender?

My previous collection The Kinda Fella I Am had focused solely on the disabled gay male experience, so I thought it was time to try something else different. Women have always fascinated me in the sense of their unfortunate second-class citizenship in our male-dominated society because as a Deaf person, I too have been treated very much like a second-class citizen by hearing people. My communication needs do not matter. The entire burden of communication rests on me: I must learn how to speak clearly and lipread while hearing people don’t feel obligated to change their behavior to accommodate my accessibility needs. Women have had to deal with an incredibly misogynistic society for centuries, so I believe I can appreciate a little bit of that fury against a system that still continues to reward hearing able-bodied straight white men.

Compassion, Michigan [HC]

SKU 978-1-61599-528-8
$31.95
The Ironwood Stories
In stock
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Product Details

Encompassing some 130 years in Ironwood's history, Compassion, Michigan illuminates characters struggling to adapt to their circumstances starting in the present day, with its subsequent stories rolling back in time to when Ironwood was first founded. What does it mean to live in a small town--so laden with its glory day reminiscences--against the stark economic realities of today? Doesn't history matter anymore? Could we still have compassion for others who don't share our views?

A Deaf woman, born into a large, hearing family, looks back on her turbulent relationship with her younger, hearing sister. A gas station clerk reflects on Stella Draper, the woman who ran an ice cream parlor only to kill herself on her 33rd birthday. A devout mother has a crisis of faith when her son admits that their priest molested him. A bank teller, married to a soldier convicted of treason during the Korean War, gradually falls for a cafeteria worker. A young transgender man, with a knack for tailoring menswear, escapes his wealthy Detroit background for a chance to live truly as himself in Ironwood. When a handsome single man is attracted to her, a popular schoolteacher enters into a marriage of convenience only to wonder if she's made the right decision.

RAYMOND LUCZAK, a Yooper native, is the author and editor of 24 books, including Flannelwood. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"These are stories of extremely real women, mostly disappointed by life, living meagerly in a depleted town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Sound depressing? Not at all. Luczak has tracked their hopes, their repressed desires, and their ambitions with the elegance and precision of one of those silhouette artists who used to snip out perfect likenesses in black paper; people 'comforted by the familiarity of loneliness,' as he writes."ť --EDMUND WHITE, author of A Saint in Texas

Learn more at www.raymondluczak.com

From Modern History Press www.ModernHistoryPress.com

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