After a 1999 reading at the Cranbrook Institute, I accompanied Jack Driscoll and poet Michael Delp to a local brewery for dinner. We sat at a corner table, underneath a stuffed moose head. “Get a load of Jack”s blouse doesn”t he look like a pirate in that shirt?” Delp commented, tugging at the loose linen sleeves. “What is this, a tunic?” Driscoll chose to ignore the jab. Instead he said to me, “It”s really too bad you aren”t old enough, because this beer really hits the spot.” If I remember correctly, Delp had to toss a glass of water at Driscoll”s sleeve to bring his attention to the garment in question. Then, Driscoll looked down at the thing as though it had come onto his body by accident. “Is that what it looks like, a tunic?”
In a way, that unconcerned attitude was exactly the one that Driscoll carried when he was my creative writing teacher. It was the semester that “Lucky Man, Lucky Woman” brought him to a certain level of literary stardom and wealth and the whole time he acted as if all of the recognition was an accident. Anyone who reads his work recognizes that it was only a matter of time.
He is a man gentle enough to be your uncle, inquisitive enough to be your teacher and talented enough to be a new literary icon. When he read a rough draft of the last chapter of his new book to our writing class, I closed my eyes and listened and couldn”t wait to hear the rest of the story.
Driscoll, who will be reading this Thursday evening in the Business School”s Hale Auditorium, has written four books of poetry, one book of short stories and two novels. His work has been published hundreds of times in various literary journals and magazines. He is the recipient of the PEN/Nelson Algren Fiction Award and an NEA Fellowship, among other awards. His first novel, “Lucky Man, Lucky Woman,” received the prestigious Pushcart Editors Award. An avid fly-fisher, his non-fiction has been published multiple times in “Outdoor Life” magazine. His book of short stories, “Wanting Only to Be Heard,” is one of the most quietly eloquent collections I have ever read.
Driscoll”s work is honest. It is bare and beautiful and honest all at once. Driscoll wears sunglasses indoors. It”s hard to tell if this too happens by accident, or if the florescent classroom is truly that offensive.
Driscoll tells stories about himself with a type of reserved selflessness, an understated finesse at turning life into a fantastic story, of illuminating the most important details, of paying attention.
His fiction writing has attuned itself to the task of attention, as well.
He has noticed the feelings of childhood and manhood in an aimless time like the present. Rick Bass, who nominated “Lucky Man, Lucky Woman” for the National Book Award, commented that: “It”s one of the best novels I”ve read all year an incredible story, not one of high drama but rather of a marriage, of all things.”
His follow-up novel, “Stardog,” about one man”s escape from his life via the American highways, received similar critical acclaim.
Driscoll”s work has always spoken from a particular mid-western sensibility, no matter where the stories take place.
Northern Michigan, where Driscoll currently resides and teaches, is an American culture of its own. It is a world dominated by a popular hunting season and a fantastic/brutal winter. It is greatly affected by rural poverty and it is also population to a thriving natural wilderness and an eclectic artistic community.
Although he has lived in San Francisco and spent much of his life on the east coast, Driscoll has always been in touch with the Michigan mindset. In the past, this area has attracted writers such as Jim Harrison and Ernest Hemingway. And now, Driscoll is approaching his 30th winter in this landscape, and paying attention to every moment of it.