What a thrill it is to have my writing recognized by an institution as admirable and vital as the National Endowment for the Arts. More concrete than the joy and prestige, however, is the very real and needed infusion of resources--this fellowship will buy me some much needed time away from my day job as well as the gift of space. I've just rented a modest but beautiful writing studio to use in the mornings--the proverbial and oft-coveted room of one's own.
From the novel Please Don't Come Back from the Moon
By August, as Detroit stewed in a steamy layer of ash and grit so toxic that breathing made you feel stoned or delirious, many of my friends' fathers had disappeared, and as we played baseball or hung out at the bike racks near Wonderland Mall, all of a sudden, some kid would blurt out, "My dad's gone."
Some men left in the traditional fashion, slipping out at night, a note left behind. Sonya Stecko, my sometime girlfriend, said her father wrote a rambling sixteen-page letter before he left, in which he affirmed that he loved her, her mother, and her siblings, and in which he offered advice about marriage, money, and other subjects. It was as if he planned to miss the next thirty years of her life.
Some men left in broad daylight, giving goodbye kisses to their children in the driveway as their wives watched from behind the curtains, furious and broken-hearted. We watched Sharon Mills give her father a kiss goodbye as her mother threw pots and pans at his truck.
Peter Stolowitz's father owned Sol's Shoes on Six Mile Road. One day he left the store unattended, the front door propped wide open with a rock. Across the front windows he had lettered FREE SHOES in huge strokes of brown latex paint. He'd taken all the cash from the register and the safe and left a note: "I'm going to the moon," it said. "I took the cash."
Everyone in town went and helped themselves to a new pair of sneakers. We opened the boxes in the stockroom like it was Christmas, tossing lids aside, tearing out white tissue paper. Some people left their old shoes behind: a formidable pile of castaway footwear grew by the fire exit. Old men took home shiny wingtips, young women took high-heeled sandals. Nick and I helped ourselves to some Converse high-tops.
I was friends with Peter Stolowitz. I stood there in my new shoes as he walked into his father's store, holding his mother's arm. She wailed and he wept. "All that we worked for," his mother sobbed. "All that I worked for."
Peter glared at Nick and me. I pointed to the FREE SHOES sign and shrugged. The gleam of the white sneakers was too much to resist. I left with the shoes.
After that, other men began using Mr. Stolowitz's line. "We're going to the moon," they'd say, walking away from us. "I'll be on the moon," they'd say, their eyes staring through us.
Dean Bakopoulos was born just outside Detroit in 1975. His first novel, Please Don't Come Back from the Moon (Harcourt), was named one of 100 Notable Books of 2005 by the New York Times. He is at work on a second novel entitled Harmony, which will be published in Fall 2007. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin MFA program, he is currently the executive director of the Wisconsin Humanities Council and lives in Madison with his wife and eight-month-old daughter.
Photo courtesy of the author