Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a books life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to Meander Belt: Family, Loss, and Coming of Age in the Working-Class South (Nebraska, 2019) by M. Randal O’Wain!
About the Book:
In Meander Belt M. Randal O’Wain offers a reflection on how a working-class boy from Memphis, Tennessee, came to fall in love with language, reading, writing, and the larger world outside of the American South. This memoir examines what it means for the son of a carpenter to value mental rather than physical labor and what this does to his relationship with his family, whose livelihood and sensibility are decidedly blue collar. Straining the father-son bond further, O’Wain leaves home to find a life outside Memphis, roaming from place to place, finding odd jobs, and touring with his band. From memory and observation, O’Wain assembles a subtle and spare portrait of his roots, family, and ultimately discovers that his working-class upbringing is not so antithetical to the man he has become.
“This is a quintessential American story of overcoming a life of hardship through perseverance and self-reclamation and coming out changed without really knowing where home is, but understanding the story continues.” —Hippocampus Magazine
“O’wain provides… a deliberate construction of salient moments, when read, that trigger our memories, produce their own, and linger like lived experience.” —Brevity
“Richly textured, defiantly honest, Meander Belt plumbs lives chained to the other side of the tracks, the perils of the working poor. O’Wain is a talent to watch.” —Chapter 16
“Meander Belt, the new memoir by UNC’s M. Randal O’Wain, is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius for the 21st century.” —WRAL.com
A Word from the Author:
I didn’t want to sit back and refresh my google feed or email account through the months after Meander Belt’s publication date last year and so I booked a tour that spanned both coasts and nearly forty events. Being on the ground, meeting readers, and booksellers, all felt like the best way to engage with the publication of my first book. Every reading was exciting for me, even the ones where just a few people showed. Once, in Jackson, Mississippi, no one came, and I hung out with the booksellers and drank wine instead. Even that event was great.
The most memorable event was with Thacker Mountain Radio, a live broadcast with musical guest and writers. I was interviewed live on stage in front of three hundred people. That was a first. In Memphis, my hometown, the local morning news show, Live at 9, invited me and I was interviewed at the studio just before Mark Curry, the actor that played Mr. Cooper from Hanging with Mr. Cooper, a show I watched as a kid just a few miles from the TV station.
I think being able to return to the “homes” I’ve claimed over the years gave me the most pleasure. In Memphis, a short film made from a section of Meander Belt was shown before the reading. In San Francisco, I spent the day with an old friend at his ceramics studio and then drank a little too much on the ferry from the east bay before my event at Green Apple. In Iowa City, I was introduced by a current grad student from my MFA program. I allowed myself the complete freedom to follow along with whatever the event coordinators, my friends, and my whims wanted. It was exhausting—but worth it—and I managed to avoid the existential dread I’d anticipated months before my publication date.