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Don De Grazia (1968 - 2024).

· Don De Grazia,American Skin,Writing,Chicago,Lucky Man
broken image

I don't want to imply I had a strong connection with Chicago author Don De Grazia or have any ownership over his memory. Nor do I want to speak of the affect his spellbinding novel American Skin had on me in any sort of self-aggrandizing way. I am however feeling his loss and his impact on my writing was significant. Specifically the writing of my debut novel Lucky Man. I'm sure I would've written Lucky Man eventually, but it was attending a reading of American Skin by Don at the old Barbara's Bookstore on Wells in the early 2000's which ensured I would. As I wrote in the Afterward for the Lucky Man re-issue in 2012:

'I knew from the start there would have to be hustle and pestering, but more than that, or maybe along with that, there would have to be recognition, something bigger than me, something that brought some attention and some heft to the table. There would have to be a book. I thought that the way to start would be a memoir, that seemed easier, more likely to get done, complete. But it didn't work. It didn't not work either though. I wrote one, but no one wanted it. I had done something though, something book length and something with heft and girth, and that's what was needed, the ability to visualize that writing a book was possible.

"And now it was.

"But what would a novel look like, what kind of narrative might there be, how would it start, and how would I start? Further, how would it end and how could I ever conceive ending it? It was possible now, but without form or content, no longer scary or unlikely, but not something with any kind of shape yet either. So I did what I did back then, I went to a reading at the old Barbara's Bookstore on Wells, a place I endlessly visited just hoping to steal something from the writers making appearances there, Scott Haim, Lynda Barry, Neal Pollack, and then one night Don De Grazia reading from his debut novel American Skin. He was as relaxed as the book is not, the story anyway, because the writing itself is relaxed, fraught with flowing language, hopped-up without actually being hopped-up, the story of some Chicago highschoolers, with fucked-up families, violence, drugs and class issues, people the author seemingly could have known, and been.

"I once read that it is a compliment if someone says that reading another writer's work makes you realize that you can do so as well. I hope that's true, because as I listened to De Grazia read I thought I can do that. I can write a book about a bunch of kids, I can suss out a recognizable time and place, create some kind of vibe that makes it unique, finds a voice, and acts like something is happening. I can do that.

"Which is why whenever someone asks about the birth of Lucky Man I always thank Don De Grazia, he opened a door for me, a door in my own brain and I owe him for that."

Which is to say, I owe him a lot. I also obsessed over meeting him and telling him how important to me he was and I told everyone I knew who knew him. I finally met him at an event 2013 and when I walked up to him, he said, "I know who you are, you're Tanzer, you wrote that book with the Dylan title (my second novel is titled You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine), and you've wanted to meet me."

We then did a shot of Malört.

I asked Don if we could grab a cup of coffee some time. We met-up the week after that and he regaled me with stories about American Skin and the writing life, and it was grand. I saw him over the years after that, but never quite hung out with him again. His loss is immeasurable for his family and friends and enormous for his students and the writing community in Chicago and beyond. It's also a loss though for those who were inspired by him and those who might yet be. Rest in peace brother.