What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I was born and raised I Eau Claire, Wisconsin where I lived for the first 19 years of my life. Then, I left for a long time, for school and grad school in Montana, Iowa, and Colorado, for a Fulbright Fellowship in Thailand, for work at a University in Thailand. Now, nearly half my life later, I’ve returned to teach and to raise my own family back in the Midwest.
Favorite places or features of the region?
Whenever I come home to Eau Claire, I always find myself sitting in the kitchen of my childhood friend, Nickolas Butler. He has good wine.
Madeline Island is also special to me—I asked my wife to marry me there—as is the front porch of my parent’s house in the Third Ward. In particular, I’ve been especially cognizant of my memories of my late father sitting on that porch in the summers and autumns when I’d come home. Even though he’s gone, I can still see him waiting quietly, watching.
What is your favorite season of the year?
Autumn, obviously, because of cool wind and wool jackets.
Has the Midwest been an influence or inspiration for your work, and if so, how?
Of course. My first two books were attempts to see the landscape differently and the landscape is, for me, forever and always, a Wisconsin landscape. My last book, Orient, tried to see the landscape of the Midwest in relation to, and in part defined by, the landscape of the Middle East.
Pencil, pen, typewriter, computer?
What’s the best job you’ve ever had?
The job I have now, as an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. I like my students, my colleagues, the campus.
What’s the worst job you ever had?
Planet Sub in Kansas City.
What do you do in your free time?
I play with my daughters, try to help my wife. I watch football in the fall. Lately, this last summer, I’ve been building a one-room cabin with my uncle in my backyard.
Favorite food or beverage?
My wife is the best cook on the planet. We’re Thai, so cooking is a central aspect of our household. The best Thai food in Wisconsin is, strangely, in Fort Atkinson, straight from our kitchen.
What’s on your radar now? Current projects?
Right now I’d like to focus on almost solely on being a dad and being a teacher. After I finished Orient, it became really, really clear to me how important a life of service actually is, how difficult it is, and thus how necessary it is to place others at the center of your life. It took me over four years to write Orient. It was a selfish project in some respects; I spent a lot of time alone. But it was also, more so, a project that pulled me out of myself and faced me toward the world. I’d like to take some time and appreciate the view.