Perry, Michael 1964–
Perry, Michael 1964–
PERSONAL: Born 1964; married. Education: University of Wisconsin—Eau Clare, B.S., 1987.
CAREER: Writer, essayist, musician, registered nurse, emergency medical technician, and volunteer firefighter. Has worked as a cowboy in Wyoming, heavy-machinery operator, truck driver, humorist, proofreader, physical therapy aide, surgeon's assistant, actor in commercials, country music roadie, operator for a suicide hotline, and character actor.
Handbook for Freelance Writing, NTC Business Books (Lincolnwood, IL), 1998.
Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time (biography), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Off Main Street: Barnstormers, Prophets, and Gatemouth's Gator (travel essays), Perennial (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including Esquire, Newsweek, Utne Reader, Cowboy, Outside, Men's Health, Salon.com, New York Times Magazine, and Backpacker.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A new nonfiction book.
SIDELIGHTS: Multifaceted author Michael Perry boasts a resume that includes a varied litany of jobs, travels, and experiences that serve as the foundation of his career as a freelance writer. In addition to having a degree in nursing, he is a licensed cycle racer and has worked as a character actor. While on the job as a cowboy in Wyoming, he "learned how to run a cutting torch and a cutting horse; how to nearly avoid a charging bull, which, frankly, isn't good enough; and how to ride like a real cowboy (never grab the saddle horn)," according to a biography posted on his home page. Perry has been a roadie for country music singers and an operator for a suicide hotline.
As an emergency medical technician and volunteer firefighter in New Auburn, Wisconsin, Perry was "the first volunteer fireman in village history to miss the monthly meeting because of a poetry reading," according to the author's home page biography. It was this same volunteer fire department that provided the background for Perry's collection of essays, Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. "Part portrait of a place, part rescue manual, part rumination on life and death, Population: 485 is a beautiful meditation on the things that matter," commented Mary Ann Gwinn in the Seattle Times. Perry grew up in New Auburn, left, and returned twelve years later. "A ticklish business, returning to a place where folks know you so well," Gwinn observed. "He is never quite clear about what prompted his return—perhaps it was the prospect of no distractions." Serving on the local fire-and-rescue squad provided an easy point of entry back into New Auburn life; it also seemed like a family affair, with his mother, sister, and brothers also members of the unit. Applying his nursing experience, Perry started the long process of becoming reacquainted with his hometown, meeting his neighbors at their points of highest distress, but also understanding them at their most human. He tells the story of his brother Jed, who responds to a car accident and finds his young wife dead in the wreckage; he describes the tricks of the trade in saving lives and rescuing the trapped and injured; he profiles his fellow firefighters, including a man known as the Beagle, who cannot buy gas in town because the sole station is staffed by his two ex-wives. The shadow of death is always present, and the fragile borderline between life and death remains uppermost in Perry's mind. But all the while, Perry possesses "the long view gained by staying in a single spot, the accretion of history, character, and memory that shores up the soul," Gwinn remarked. "So many things make more sense when you know the ghosts that walk your home ground."
"Tragic at times, funny at others, Perry's memoir will appeal to anyone curious about small-town life," noted Booklist reviewer Kristine Huntley. Population: 485 exists "in the best tradition of books that pay quiet homage to community service, place, and the men and women who live there," remarked a Kirkus Reviews contributor.
With Off Main Street: Barnstormers, Prophets, and Gatemouth's Gator Perry offers another collection of "word portraits of unique people he's met," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Truckers, country singers, blues musicians, traveling butchers, and other unique characters populate the book's pages. Throughout the essays, small towns and the people who live in them are highlighted. Perry "has a real talent for mining quirky humor from even the most mundane situations, and humor isn't his only strength," commented the Kirkus Reviews critic, who also noted Perry's ability to tell a poignant and emotionally powerful story.
Perry told CA: "When people ask me for the secret to surviving as a freelance writer, I usually tell them I discovered that secret years ago while cleaning calf pens on my father's farm. That is, you just keep shoveling until you've got a pile so big, SOMEONE has to notice. A childhood spent slinging manure—the metaphorical basis for a writing career.
"Although I write prose, as a reader I always return to the poets. Dylan Thomas, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, James Wright, Rita Dove, Mark Doty, Bruce Taylor … a quiet hour spent reading poetry completely revivifies my respect and hunger for the rhythm and taste of language well chosen."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 15, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time, p. 368; February 15, 2005, Rebecca Maksel, review of Off Main Street: Barnstormers, Prophets, and Gatemouth's Gator, p. 1057.
Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, April 28, 2005, Ann Barsness, profile of Michael Perry.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of Population: 485, p. 1014; January 15, 2005, review of Off Main Street, p. 108.
Library Journal, February 15, 2005, Joyce Sparrow, review of Off Main Street, p. 130.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 19, 2002, Meg Jones, "In Tragedy, Writer Finds Community," review of Population: 485.
New York Times Book Review, September 7, 2003, Alida Becker, review of Population: 485, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, July 15, 2002, review of Population: 485, p. 62; January 17, 2005, review of Off Main Street, p. 41.
Seattle Times, October 3, 2002, Mary Ann Gwinn, review of Population: 485.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 15, 2002, review of Population: 485, p. 1.
Michael Perry Home Page, http://www.sneezingcow.com (July 9, 2005).