Supplied photos by Robert Campagna
Photographs by Robert Campagna will be exhibited in the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Kenan Hall to coincide with the launch of Ben Miller’s “River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll Amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa,” published by Lookout Books.
Ben Miller has lived in New York for almost three decades, far away from the childhood in urban Iowa that inspired his newly-published memoir, “River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll Amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa.”
While he admits that the title is a mouthful, Miller said in a phone interview on Saturday, April 6 that it was carefully penned to reflect the journey the book offers.
“We really wanted to give readers a sense of adventure with it … and it’s a book with lots of different parts and I think the subtitle is sort of an imprint of the adventure that it is,” he said.
Miller said that it took more than a decade to write about his life growing up in Iowa in a chaotic household with an eccentric family.
“My idea in the beginning was to single out and focus in on certain faces and places that were really formative of my spirit, my mind and my practical life … not just focusing on me, but all the things that make a life,” he said.
Miller will introduce readers to many characters, neighbors, estranged family members and even the social-political icons of the 1970s whom he fixated on as a child, while attempting to highlight the good, bad and ugly with bare honesty, as well as humor.
“This is not a ‘grim-moir,’ it’s trying to capture the light and darkness that make up a life without shying away from any edges,” he said.
“My family was one like many in the 1970s, we had some severe economic problems that made the household chaotic,” Miller continued. “Both of my parents brought some emotional and mental difficulties that were played out … and though the book does go into some difficult areas, my impulse has always been to try to understand.”
Out of the light and darkness was the bowtie-clad Mr. Hickey, a neighbor whom Miller said he formed an irrevocable bond with that lasted long after the author moved away.
“He lived next to my family … and we and other kids from the neighborhood would seek refuge there. He had a very orderly and decent house, and you could go and he would mostly just sit with you and offer camaraderie in dark times,” Miller said.
After Mr. Hickey passed away in a nursing home in the late 1980s, Miller said he received his old friend’s collection of bowties in the mail, which is now proudly displayed on his website’s blog. The ties are also worn by Miller in homage to his friend.
“The bowties are sort of like characters, with polka-dots, stripes and all of the wild colors that he would always wear,” Miller described. “I think he might have known that I would appreciate them and take care of them, as I have.”
“River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll Amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa” was published by Lookout Books, which is affiliated with the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Ecotone literary journal.
Miller will launch his book and his tour across North Carolina this Sunday, April 14 at 7 p.m. at the Kenan Hall courtyard at UNCW, followed by a reception and photography exhibition by the book’s illustrating photographer, Robert Campagna, in the Kenan lobby.
To learn more about Ben Miller and his work, visit www.riverbendchronicle.com