Skloot, Floyd 1947-
SKLOOT, Floyd 1947-
PERSONAL: Born July 6, 1947, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Harry (a butcher) and Lillian Alfus (a homemaker; maiden name, Rosen) Skloot; married Betsy Lee, August 10, 1970 (divorced, September, 1992); married Beverly Hallberg, May 14, 1993; children (first marriage): Rebecca Lee; stepchildren: Matthew Coale. Education: Franklin and Marshall College, B.A., 1969; Southern Illinois University, M.A., 1971, doctoral studies, 1972. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, cinema, music, watching baseball, cooking.
ADDRESSES: Home and offıce—5680 Karla's Ln., Amity, OR 97101. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Poet, essayist, and novelist. Worked in public policy, on the staffs of three Illinois governors, the Washington legislature, and a large energy corporation, 1972-88.
AWARDS, HONORS: McGinnis-Ritchie Award for best essay of the year, Southwest Review, 1997; Emily Clark Balch Prize in Poetry, Virginia Quarterly Review, 2000; Oregon Book Award in Poetry, 2001, for The Evening Light; best book of 2003, Chicago Tribune, for In the Shadow of Memory; Puschcart Prize, 2004, for "A Measure of Acceptance"; W. M. A. Stafford Fellowship in Poetry, Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship; annual prizes for the best essays from Southwest Review and Creative Fiction.
Kaleidoscope (poems), Silverfish Review (Eugene, OR), 1986.
Wild Light (poems), Silverfish Review (Eugene, OR), 1989.
Pilgrim's Harbor (novel), Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1992.
Summer Blue (novel), Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1994.
Music Appreciation (poems), University Press of Florida (Gainesville, FL), 1994.
Poppies (poems), Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1994.
Lawrence B. Salander: Small Landscapes, Mark De Montebello Fine Art (New York, NY), 1995.
Jedd Novatt, Sculpture, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries (New York, NY), 1996.
The Night-Side: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and theIllness Experience (essays), also published as The Night-Side: Years in the Kingdom of the Sick, Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1996.
The Open Door (novel), Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1997.
The Evening Light (poems), Story Line Press (Ashland, OR), 2001.
The Fiddler's Trance (poems), Bucknell University Press (Lewisburg, PA), 2001.
In the Shadow of Memory, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2003.
Contributor of essays to The Best American Essays, 1993, The Art of the Essay, 1999, The Best American Essays, and The Penguin Book of the Sonnet. Contributor of essays and poems to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Poetry, Antioch Review, Prairie Schooner, Three-Penny Review, Gettysburg Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Another essay collection; Fragmentary Blue, a sequel to In the Shadow of Memory
SIDELIGHTS: Award-winning poet, essayist, and novelist Floyd Skloot has turned personal adversity into a mine for his artistic endeavors. After graduating from college, he led a dream existence. He was a successful senior public policy analyst with a fast-track career, he won medals running in weekend road races, he was an accomplished gourmet cook, and he had written—but not published—two novels and one book of poetry. Everything changed for him on December 7, 1988, his personal "Day of Infamy." In Washington, D.C., for an energy conference, he woke up in his hotel room curiously lacking in personal energy. Disoriented, dizzy, and believing himself to be suffering from jet lag, he thought he might be able to overcome his lethargy with a little exercise. So he laced up his running shoes and set out for the Capital Mall. He soon exhausted himself; his usual powers had been "systematically stripped away," as he later recalled. Skloot would remain in this state for over a decade and, indeed, he still feels the effects of his debilitating illness, an illness he did not even have a name for during the first five months he suffered from it. When a doctor finally diagnosed him as suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), he could name his nemesis.
Before the onset of his illness Skloot had written fiction and verse, but only after being knocked down by illness did he start to write essays, many about his experiences with disease. In 1996 The Night-Side: Seven Years in the Kingdom of the Sick rolled off the presses. Skloot had cribbed the book's title from a sentence in Susan Sontag's Illness As Metaphor: "Illness is the night-side of life. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick." As he detailed in these essays, even after a decade Skloot had not managed to get a passport back to the day-side. In an interview published on the Amazon.com Web site, Skloot admitted, "Now I am able to write for two hours on a good day, and good days might happen three times a week. Nevertheless, it is astonishing how much can get done under those circumstances." Time for writing is not all Skloot has lost. "I've had to small-down my life," Skloot told Cecelia Goodnow of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "I don't try to do more than what I'm capable of doing."
Because of his bout with CFS, Skloot's brain is not what it used to be either. In his book he describes asking a friend for a piece of "decaffeinated gum" and of floundering in his mind for "car antenna" and coming out with "umbrella" instead. It was as if "my brain had been rewired by Gracie Allen," he wrote. As Skloot explained to Goodnow, "I can't learn new tasks. I still can't figure out how to build a fire in our wood stove, although my wife has shown me repeatedly. And I was a very bright man."
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or not, Skloot was able to complete a dozen essays in The Night-Side that range in topics from humor to baseball, music to poetry, and contain insights from the likes of Oliver Sacks and Norman Cousins. A number of reviewers applauded the collection, including the Sewanee Review's Sanford Pinsker, who wrote: "That the essays of The Night-Side appeared originally in such quarterlies as the American Scholar, the Antioch Review, Prairie Schooner, Three-Penny Review, the Gettysburg Review, and the Virginia Quarterly Review reflects something of their merit; but, taken together, they have the cumulative effect that the individual pieces merely suggest."
Skloot's first published novel, Pilgrim's Harbor, which appeared in 1992—some sixteen years after he wrote the first pages—features Dewey Howser, a motel manager in an unidentified western state. Howser has no family or friends and his only contact with humanity is through the guests who stay at his motel. He starts a relationship with a woman he meets at a mall, but it ends disastrously when she leaves him for one of the motel's guests. While a Kirkus Reviews contributor dismissed the book as "this barely breathing first novel," Prairie Schooner's Lee Lemon found Pilgrim's Harbor to be "one of those novels that delivers more than it promises. . . . The setting and Skloot's skill turn the novel into a small delight."
Two years later Skloot published Summer Blue, a coming-of-age novel about a father and daughter on a journey of self-discovery. As a reward for straightening out in school, fourteen-year-old Jill Packard earns a summer-long road trip with her father, Tim. One destination is her grandmother's home in Long Island, where Jill must come to terms with both her mother's abandonment and the woman's leukemia. Other stops include a lakeside cabin in Michigan and an aunt's home in Oregon. Along the way both father and daughter are altered by their experiences, and their relationship to each other is altered in turn. The novel caught the attention of reviewers. According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "Skloot blends well-limned personalities and neatly construed events with an evocative atmosphere," and Mary Carroll of Booklist dubbed Summer Blue "a caring and compassionate story."
A dysfunctional Jewish family's interactions from the 1930s to the 1970s make up the plot of the 1997 novel The Open Door. The novel opens in Brooklyn and describes Myron Adler's youth and his eventual courtship of Faye Raskin. Myron is the crude proprietor of a live poultry market and Faye is a would-be social climber, so it is not surprising that their marriage is doomed from the start. But instead of taking his frustrations out on Faye, Myron regularly beats his two boys, Richard and Danny. One such beating results in Richard's losing sight in one eye. Richard grows up to become an overweight, troubled salesman, but Danny's nature is near-angelic, and he finds happiness as a father and as a successful architect. How the boys cope with their shared legacy is the subject of the novel's second half. The novel earned qualified praise. While a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted it is "filled with sloppy writing and a transparently manipulated cast," Booklist's Jim O'Laughlin found that "the book's modulations of tone are reassuring, effectively salvaging the humor of this world."
While working on his master's degree at Southern Illinois University, Skloot had the good fortune to study with Irish poet Thomas Kinsella. He has been writing poetry ever since, publishing individual poems in literary magazines and then a handful of poetry chapbooks and book collections, including Wild Light, Music Appreciation, Poppies, and The Evening Light. There exists an autobiographical thread to collections such as Music Appreciation and The Evening Light. The former work received favorable reviews from Pat Monaghan of Booklist, who hailed it as "a rare book that begins strong, moves strongly, and ends in strength." Monaghan noted the work's resemblance to an autobiography, with poems about a troubled childhood followed by poems about dealing with those problems while looking back from the safety of adulthood. These, in turn, are followed by poems about suffering from a debilitating illness. The verses that close out the book are devoted to memory and the sensory life. In the Hudson Review, John Greening, who also grasped the autobiographical nature of the collection, remarked: "This makes for a very satisfactory one-hundred-page book, yet there is no compromising of individual poems." Greening continued, "[Skloot] will no doubt be labeled a formalist, for he is highly sensitive to the shapes words make on the page and to the sculpting of his themes."
In Skloot's 2001 poetic offering, The Evening Light, he continues his autobiographical, poetical musings, which "at their best . . . glow with the lambent radiance of the poet's highly constrained world," to quote Richard Wakefield of the Sewanee Review. Monaghan pointed out that only a portion of the poems deal with the poet's illness; others, as Judy Clarence mentioned in Library Journal, provide readers with "wittily entertaining" looks at artistic figures. Among the book's enthusiasts is Vincente F. Gotera, who described Skloot's craft as "masterful" in the North American Review, and Monaghan, who cited a "strong, clean, and clear" poetic voice that shines through these largely celebratory poems.
In 2004 Skloot published a sequel to The Night-Side. In the Shadow of Memory is a "remarkably cohesive collection of essays [that] chronicles his attempts to reassemble himself," according to Kyle Minor in the Antioch Review, and in the view of Washington Post reviewer David Guy, Skloot has succeeded, for the evidence is clear in this work. "While the early descriptions of his condition are fascinating, by far the more vivid part of the book," Guy wrote, is "where he gives us distant and recent memories of his family," in chapters that are "tightly written and beautifully constructed." As with its subject matter, reviewers commented favorably on the work's poetic and lapidary style, which in its "glassy formal structure . . . strikes back at his [Skloot's] confusion," noted Steven L. Glazer in Literature and Medicine. In these essays, which are laced with a "vulnerable and gentle humor," as Glazer described them, Skloot discusses various aspects of the changes wrought by his illness. One such change is a greater understanding and compassion for his own mother, who was formerly abusive but now suffers from a dementia that has softened her personality. The third section, titled "A Measure of Acceptance," won the Puschart Prize. In Glazer's opinion, this final twenty-two-page section, which took Skloot eleven months to write, is the strongest: Skloot "writes with the power of a life well lived, uncontained by the change he has undergone."
Skloot once told CA: "My writing has always begun with poetry. It is the only genre I formally studied, having worked with the Irish poet Thomas Kinsella in 1969 and 1970, and my first publications were poems in literary magazines the next year. After leaving academia and beginning a career in public policy, I worked on my poems at night and then, in 1974, began to try short fiction, always returning to poetry as the core of my endeavors. By 1976 I was also writing book reviews and had begun the novel Pilgrim's Harbor, which was completed a full decade later.
"I wrote Pilgrim's Harbor three times, essentially teaching myself to write a novel in the process. The initial draft, told in the first person by the innkeeper protagonist, failed to develop a viable plot, moving along instead by an accumulation of character details. The second draft shifted to a third-person narrator, which granted me enough distance to see the story line clearly but, I realized, stripped the novel of its most essential quality, the narrator's warm and quirky voice. A final draft, back in the first person, allowed both the narrative and the character to cohere.
"My second novel, Summer Blue, took only ten months to write. A short, 217-page novel, it is composed of sixty-five brief chapters because I wrote the book during my lunch hours at work and had very little time to be expansive. Each chapter is a scene, something I could manage to hold in view during these bursts of composition. The first draft of my third novel, The Open Door, was written in ten weeks, largely during a residency at the Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, California. Though this trend is encouraging, I do not expect my next novel to be written in ten days. Each of my novels has gotten progressively more autobiographical, reversing the customary journey most novelists make. Each has gotten more intimate and, I think, dangerous in its materials.
"In 1988 I became totally disabled by a viral illness that targeted my brain. For a year I was unable to write at all. Brain damage dramatically affected my ability to work and, when I could work again, affected my writing itself. I began to write essays, using personal experience and the personal voice to explore the meaning of my experience. Throughout I have continued to write poetry. All genres seem to feed on one another, to bring out core images, emotions and narratives that move back and forth across the boundaries."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antioch Review, winter, 2004, Kyle Minor, review of In the Shadow of Memory, pp. 173-174.
Book, March-April, 2003, Beth Kephart, review of In the Shadow of Memory, pp. 81-82.
Booklist, November 1, 1994, Pat Monaghan, review of Music Appreciation, p. 474; December 1, 1994, Mary Carroll, review of Summer Blue, p. 655; September 15, 1997, Jim O'Laughlin, review of The Open Door, p. 211; December 15, 2000, Patricia Monaghan, review of The Evening Light, p. 782; March 15, 2003, Bryce Christensen, review of In the Shadow of Memory, p. 1259.
Dallas Morning News, September 22, 2003, "Writer with MS Losing His Words and Finding His Way."
Hudson Review, autumn, 1995, John Greening, review of Music Appreciation, pp. 512-513; spring, 2002, Robert Phillips, "O Lost!," pp. 146-151.
Journal of the American Medical Association, November 26, 1997, Michael Loudon, review of The Night-Side: Years in the Kingdom of the Sick, p. 1709.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1992, review of Pilgrim's Harbor, p. 1085; August 1, 1997, review of The Open Door, p. 1146.
Library Journal, November 15, 1994, Jane S. Bakerman, review of Summer Blue, p. 88; June 15, 1996, James Swanton, review of The Night-Side, p. 85; January 1, 2001, Judy Clarence, review of The Evening Light, p 112.
Literature and Medicine, fall, 2003, Steven L. Glazer, review of In the Shadow of Memory, p. 261.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 24, 1993, p. 9; April 8, 2003, Bernadette Murphy, "Memories of a Normal Life," p. E8.
New York Times Book Review, Stan Friedman, review of Summer Blue, p. 18.
North American Review, January-February, 2002, Vincente F. Gotera, review of The Evening Light, p. 44.
Prairie Schooner, summer, 1993, Lee Lemon, review of Pilgrim's Harbor, pp. 146-149.
Publishers Weekly, October 24, 1994, review of Summer Blue, pp. 52-53; June 17, 1996, review of The Night-Side, p. 61; August 11, 1997, review of The Open Door, p. 386; February 24, 2003, review of In the Shadow of Memory, p. 65.
San Francisco Chronicle, March 27, 2003, Adair Lara, "Poet Learns to Live—and Write—with Brain Damage," p. E2.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 17, 1998, Cecelia Goodnow, review of The Night-Side.
Sewanee Review, fall, 1996, Sanford Pinsker, review of The Night-Side, pp. xc-xcii; summer, 2003, Richard Wakefield, "Light and More Light," pp. 348-351.
U.S. Catholic, August, 1994, Brian Doyle, "Graceful Falls: How Physical Injuries Can Lead to Spiritual Growth."
Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 2001, review of The Evening Light.
Washington Post, May 4, 2003, David Guy, "Past Forgetting," T5.
Amazon.com,http://www.amazon.com/ (June 10, 2004), interview with Floyd Skloot.
Barnes & Noble,http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ (summer, 2003), "Good to Know."
Story Line Press,http://www.storylinepress.com/ (June 10, 2004), interview with Floyd Skloot.*