Last Kind Words seeks to explore the mysterious life of blues singer Geeshie Wiley who recorded several songs, including the incredible and haunting “Last Kind Words Blues” in 1930/31 and then essentially disappeared. She has been called the “rural South’s greatest female blues singer and musician,” though very little is known of her and no images of her are known to exist. Ever since reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in college, I have been fascinated by the notion of invisible voices. In the case of Wiley, the fact that we can hear her on these recordings but know so little else brings to mind the millions of silent voices – specifically female and African-American living in the southern United States in the early 20th century; one can only imagine the rich trove of humanity and art that has been lost. In this excerpt, the narrative runs primarily through the observations of Willie, a young boy who will grow up to be an accomplished bluesman. In the novel, he will seek out Wiley’s trail.
Root That Mountain Down (novel excerpt)
Root That Mountain Down takes place in West Africa, set during the period just after the end of the civil war in Sierra Leone. This is a conflict little known in the United States, but any earthly conflict should be a concern for all of us, even those of us geographically far removed. In fact, the war in Sierra Leone does have a connection to many in this part of the world, though often without our knowledge. The trade in illicit “blood diamonds” means that many Americans (and others) are wearing the literal spoils of the war. This novel seeks to make the atrocities personal and unforgettable. The book was originally my thesis project while I was completing my graduate degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. It was subsequently excerpted in The Baltimore Review and it won a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artists Award for fiction.
Independence (novel excerpt)
Independence is the story of Lilly, age fifteen, and Lee, eighteen. Lee arrives in Lilly’s hometown of Paris, South Dakota, just before summer begins, 1976. It isn’t long before she takes off with him on what she deems a grand adventure. But when an otherwise idyllic day by a wild riverside turns tragic, the couple must flee, engaging in a doomed trip across the Great Plains. Lilly has to decide what she will tell her daughter as the two of them ride across the country on the way to Lee's execution, almost two decades after she and Lee set out on their own. I’m interested in the challenges inherent in inhabiting the voice of a female teenager in the 1970s in the Midwest, an experience far from my own, and in particular that peculiar time in one's life that straddles childhood and adulthood, innocence and experience.
Spitfire (novel excerpt)
Caroline Panski, twelve years old and living in Baltimore in 1952, dreams of playing ice hockey. Spitfire follows Caroline’s journey through a world that is rapidly changing around her, one that daily tests her mettle and her will. It is the story of a young girl who shouts, “Yes, I can!” to a world that consistently tells her, “No, you can’t.” This is a young adult novel, something I had never written before and something that was, quite honestly, a challenge to create. But I wrote it as my daughter was getting older and I wanted to give her something she would want to read. I have coached her travel soccer team for years and the plucky main character of the novel is very much an amalgam of her and the many teammates of hers I have had the immense pleasure to coach over the past five years. The screenplay version of the book, which I also wrote, won both the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund Fellowship as well as the 2016 Baltimore Screenwriting Competition. Subsequently, it has gained interest from a producer who plans to start production on a feature length film in 2017.
Evan Balkan is the author of six published books of nonfiction, including The Wrath of God: Lope de Aguirre, Revolutionary of the Americas (Univ. of New Mexico Press) as well as many essays and short stories in an array of publications. He currently coordinates the English Department at the Community... more