I'm pleased to welcome Richard Katrovas to Michigander Monday.
Debbie: Richard, please tell us a little about yourself.
Richard: I grew up on the road. My father, through the fifties and into the sixties, kited checks and scammed car dealers. He was wanted in forty-seven states when he was finally caught. I’m the oldest of five, all born over the course of our parents’ protracted road trip. My family lived on welfare both times my father was incarcerated in federal prisons (five-to-ten out in three), the second time in the Norfolk, Virginia, federal housing projects. I was adopted into a navy family in my early teens, moved to Sasebo, Japan, where I earned a second-degree black belt in Sho-bu-kan Okinawa-te. I put myself through college primarily by teaching karate and working in restaurants. I graduated from San Diego State University, and then attended the University of Virginia on a Hoyns fellowship. I subsequently attended the MFA program at the University of Arkansas for two years, but graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop. I taught for twenty years at the University of New Orleans, taking early retirement in 2002. I've taught for twelve years at Western Michigan University. I’m the founding director of the Prague Summer Program, which is going into its twenty-second year. I witnessed Prague’s Velvet Revolution on a Fulbright fellowship in 1989. I have three Czech-American daughters. My oldest, Ema, twenty-four, is an opera singer in Europe.
Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your books.
Raising Girls in Bohemia: Meditations of an American Father (Three Rooms Press, New York: 2014) and a poetry collection, Swastika to Lotus (forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon in late 2015). My books have been nominated for all the big awards, but nominations are no big deal. My books have been widely and positively reviewed over the years. My poems, stories and essays have appeared in scores of the most respected literary journals and anthologies.
Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?
Richard: I’m putting finishing touches on a novel, Confessions of a Waiter, and a story collection, The Great Czech Navy.
Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
Richard: I attended my book launch in New York a couple weeks ago, and read and lectured in the Meachem Literary Festival in Chattanooga, Tenn., a few days. On November 20, I read in WMU’s Frostic Reading Series. I’ll read at University of Mississippi in the spring, and in New Orleans while I’m down there.
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?
Richard: I’m very proud of the Kalamazoo Public Library. I love the Michigan News Agency. It’s owned and run by an angel. K’zoo Books is also terrific.
Debbie: How about a favorite place in Michigan?
Richard: I love to walks around Asylum Lake, in Kalamazoo, with my wife. I love South Haven. I must say that my life is such that I really don’t have many opportunities to travel around the state. Most of what I know about Michigan I've learned from my students’ stories, essays and poems. Just today, a young woman put up for critique a story set in Battle Creek, where she grew up. I learned a lot about the working-class youth culture there, about the effects of the cereal industry moving away. The story of course needs a lot of editing, a lot of work, but it’s full of wisdom, and full of wary love for the writer’s hometown. I have to say that I love my Michigan students. I can love Michigan through them.
Debbie: Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Richard: Spring. I love the hell out of spring.
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Richard: Arnie and Deborah Johnston are state treasures. Deb grew up here, raised a family here, in her short fiction writes gloriously about southwest Michigan. Arnie came here decades ago and is a true Renaissance man. They collaborate on terrific plays that get produced all over, even in New York.
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Richard: The term “pure Michigan” is unfortunate on several levels, but the landscape of this state is as stunning, in its way, as that of any other.
Debbie: Last question. Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?
Richard: I’m neither. I've not earned the right to call myself a Michigander (my favorite of the two). I spend too much time traveling around the country and living in Europe to feel genuinely rooted here. But, like I said earlier, I feel connected to this place primarily through my Michigander students.
Debbie: Richard, thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!