Literary arts

Newly released books

Summer Writers Series presents Lorraine Lener Ciancio and James McGrath Morris


The SOMOS Summer Writers Series continues with two authors who have just released new books: Lorraine Lener Ciancio and James McGrath Morris. The Wednesday (Aug. 9) event starts at 7 p.m. and takes place at the SOMOS Salon, 108 Civic Plaza Drive.

Ciancio’s newest work is “From Salt to Sage” (Nighthawk Press, 2017). It is a collection of essays and poems that emphasizes memoir, travel and major lifestyle changes. When Tempo asked what inspired the mix of genres, Ciancio explains, “These combinations are what my life has been about since I was a child and it seemed natural to combine the forms.”

In her introduction, Ciancio writes, “The essays in this book are personal. They are not linear or chronological. Some scenes may be composite; some names may be changed, but they are all true according to the subjective snapshots that linger in the album of my memory.”

The author has a long history with SOMOS and has read for SOMOS before. In 2015, Ciancio shared a Writers Series bill with Natalie Goldberg. For “From Salt to Sage,” Goldberg provides a book blurb.

Ciancio was the editor of “Chokecherries” and co-editor of “Storied Recipes,” both SOMOS publications. For this SOMOS reading, she says, “I have my book out and I would like to share it with the people who know me. They’ll hear some of the stories that they’ve only heard snatches of, perhaps. I’m sharing this because it’s never too late to fulfill a dream. This is the first of at least two more books. I hope I live long enough.”

For her process in creating and compiling “From Salt to Sage,” Ciancio explains that she has worked on these stories for several years, honing them, trying them out on audiences and at workshops and editing some more. “At some point, I realized it was time to let go of my work and put it out there.”

From a story titled “Head in a Jar & Pizza,” Ciancio writes: “We followed the guard, who carried a handful of clinking keys in his hand, into an inner room. In front of us was a door with a plaque that warned, Morgue: Authorized Personnel Only. We stepped in, and the door clicked shut behind us.”

The press release states that Ciancio’s poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies, including A Poet’s Cookbook, XY Files, KnitLit, Adobe Walls and Contemporary Haibun Online.

Of what we can expect from Ciancio next, she said, “I don’t know what my next collection will be, but the freedom of releasing this material has opened a path that I am moving along with my eyes wide open.”

Morris will be coming, he says with a chuckle, “all the way from Santa Fe.” In 2015, Morris read at SOMOS from “Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press,” his New York Times best-selling biography. He is also the author of “Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power.” He has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” PBS’ “NewsHour” and C-SPAN’s “Book TV.”

For this reading, Morris will read from his latest book, “The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War” (Da Capo Press, 2017). “It’s my newest book and came out this spring. It’s very timely. The U.S. is noticing the centenary of its involvement in the Great War. We were latecomers and entered World War I in April 1917,” he says.

As the author of several biographies, Morris was the founding editor of the monthly Biographer’s Craft and has served as both the executive director and president of BIO. When asked what it was like to tackle two biographical subjects in one book – authors John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway – he says, “In some ways, it’s almost easier. The character becomes their friendship. It’s a narrative thread that holds the book together. You’re constantly dealing with their friendship, their rivalry and what they had seen together in the Great War.”

In today’s modern vernacular, Morris classifies the Dos Passos and Hemingway friendship as a “bromance.” The two men had an absorbing, important friendship. And even though they only drove ambulances for a few months, doing so changed their lives.

“When I look for something to write about, it has to have a strong narrative arc. I’m interested in telling a story. Usually, writing a story about writers is boring: ‘They go to their typewriters.’ But these two men led extraordinarily interesting lives. I tried to capture them in the act of creation versus reporting. The Economist said my book ‘reads like a novel.’”

It is interesting to note that when “The Ambulance Drivers” begins, Dos Passos is the famous author and Hemingway is unknown. Morris points out that though Dos Passos’ works may be “impenetrable” to read today, at the time, they were very much a sign of the times and very important.

“I come to these events with a lot of interesting images and some kind of compelling tale,” Morris says, explaining that his reading will be a slideshow presentation. “I earn my living as a storyteller. I don’t read from a prepared text. I assemble the anecdotes that match the image to make it worthwhile for you to get in your Subaru and come to SOMOS.”

Tickets are $8, $5 for SOMOS members. For more information, call SOMOS at (575) 758-0081.