October 19, 2020
Matt Keliher knows the perfect book for you.
“In graduate school they taught us how to teach knowing that most writers need day jobs. Luckily, I really took to it—each class period is like a gig. There’s a lot of improv in teaching, and every day brings lucky surprises. I really like sharing cool books with college students and giving them a different way to look at English classes, and I also love helping aspiring memoirists draw out their own stories because it’s so difficult to write freely about shared experiences. Since writing is such a solitary practice, having classroom communities balance all of that alone time.”
I loved writing Petal Pusher. I started working on it before going to grad school, and I finished and sold it a year after earning my MFA. That evening in June, 2007 at the Fitzgerald Theater for Mary Lucia’s fabulous “Fakebook” series eclipsed my wildest dreams and I consider myself one lucky-ass writer to have so many friends willing to share their talents to make that night so special—John Eller, Jim Boquist, Marc Perlman, Lori Barbero, Mark Olson, Ed Ackerson, Steve Wynn, my bandmates, and my family, Paul and Mary. I always want to “put on a show” like in an old MGM Andy Hardy movie, and thankfully everyone was game because not all of my hare-brained grandiose visions pan out as hoped. The whole night was a blur and I’m glad that a lot of people took pictures and so many friends were able to make it out that night. I’m also grateful that Mary is so such a well-prepared, unflappable, thoughtful interviewer and emcee. Of course, the fact that I botched one of our songs sticks with me after all the pixie dust has melted, but I have forgiven myself.
In graduate school they taught us how to teach knowing that most writers need day jobs. Luckily, I really took to it—each class period is like a gig. There’s a lot of improv in teaching, and every day brings lucky surprises. I really like sharing cool books with college students and giving them a different way to look at English classes, and I also love helping aspiring memoirists draw out their own stories because it’s so difficult to write freely about shared experiences. Since writing is such a solitary practice, having classroom communities balances that alone time.
My little brother Chris came up with the idea one sort-of-tragic Christmas eve late night while we were watching the movie and trying to pick up the pieces around our recently broken family. He looked over from his part of the sectional and dropped, “That’s what you should call your band.” And he was right, though we met countless other imposter Zuzu’s Petals bands while touring.
I write often — it’s how I think or figure things out. Lyrics, poetry, prose. And I took a couple of rounds of guitar lessons a year or so ago, so yes, both still confound and interest me, and I still miss playing.
I worked at Al’s for 12 years, all the way up to the point when I became too pregnant to sashay down the counter in 1998.
“Morningside After Dark” came together to ward off deep winter doldrums, and my co-creators and neighbors Jim Mahoney and Rebecca Sorenson did most of the heavy lifting — the fact that I know a lot of musicians and writers came in handy. I no longer live in the neighborhood, and it’s become a much bigger event in the last couple of years since I moved.
First, thank you. I love memoirists Mary Karr and Patricia Hampl and Frank McCourt and countless others. I don’t read nearly as much fiction as I used to, though Ann Patchett never disappoints. I like reading something that feels like the writer is whispering into my ear, and I try to write with that in mind. Come closer. Pull up an ice block.
I do consider myself an essayist—it is my favorite form and there are so many breathtaking essayists. Essay writing is the creative non-fiction equivalent of a short story, or poem, or song. My next book may end up being a collection of interrelated essays.
Probably, Linda Pitmon came up with that one, and “Kicking Our Own Asses” and choice segments of Spinal Tap describe us perfectly.
Grading! I’m always trying to tease out another book—I’ve stopped and started several over the years, and I write a lot of essays. And every once in a while, a song.
Photo by Stacy Sandstrom.