The Author

Author can be contacted directly for talks and signings
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Mac Nelson was born at an early age and began reading soon thereafter.

Actually, my family worried that I was slow verbally.  I almost never spoke or imitated, until one evening I said “Grandfather, look at the moon,” a polished, complete sentence from an eighteen-month old, and that amiable gentleman almost dropped me.  It was he who taught me to read from the local newspaper, the Barry [Illinois] Adage, the same paper Floyd Dell wrote he’d learned to read from.  On my very first day in school I was given a reading test--I remember it was about bunnies--and I spent the afternoon of that first day in second grade, scared shitless of all the big kids.

I got over the terror and became a wide and voracious reader. (I still am.) There weren’t many books in our house, but there was the Harvard U “five foot shelf,” the fifty volume compendium of what middlebrow readers with aspirations were supposed to read--Aristotle, Shakespeare,
Ben Franklin.  I inherited that set from my parents, and I still enjoy looking into the only volume that shows serious wear, the evidence of my juvenile taste: Volume 17, “Folk Lore and Fable, Aesop, Grimm, Andersen.”  Lordy, how I loved Grimm’s Fairy tales.  I still get goosebumps over “One Eye, Two Eyes, Three Eyes,” and I like Anne Sexton's TRANSFORMATIONS, too.

Early literary influences include the aforementioned grandfather, his daughter (my mother), family stories from both sides, and a lot of good teachers, notably a demanding sixth grade teacher, Edna Grenoble, who loved good grammar and good writing and expected both of me.  As a
college English teacher, I never really thought of becoming a writer--I just was one, on many topics.  I’ve written about Robin Hood, early English catches, canons and glees, Shakespeare, New England gravestones and burying grounds, television, faculty unionism, American Indian
literatures and cultures, and now, wilderness and history, religion and poetry, and a great American road.

When I actually finish this book and market it, I may well work on another great American road.  I have my eye on two: US 6 and US 41, both historic and interesting, both important in my life.  TWENTY WEST grew out of my lifelong love of stories and travel, particularly of American road trips.

No book writes itself.  As Red Smith wrote, writing is simple: you just sit at the typewriter, open a vein, and bleed.  And this one was indeed a lot of work, taking me into new areas of experience.  Yet, in a way, it was the easiest of my books, because I had unknowingly been
researching it for most of my life.  Joyce Cary’s painter-protagonist Gulley Jimson describes how painting feels when it’s going well.  He imagines that he sees the shapes on the blank wall or canvas, and “only had to put a line around ’em.”  (From the magnificent novel THE HORSE'S MOUTH.)  Much of this book--particularly the wilderness sections--was written with that kind of pleasure, assurance, and love.

Robert Frost put it this way in “Two Tramps in Mud time:”

  But yield who will to their separation,
  My object in living is to unite
  My avocation and my vocation
  As my two eyes make one in sight.
  Only where love and need are one
  And the work is play for mortal stakes,
  Is the deed every really done,
  For Heaven and the future's sakes.

Mac Nelson is Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at SUNY Fredonia and coeditor (with Elizabeth Hoffman Nelson) of Telling the Stories: Essays on American Indian Literatures and Cultures and coauthor (with Diana Hume George) of Epitaph and Icon: A Field Guide to the Old Burying Grounds of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.