Smile Politely

Spreading the gospel of the Devil’s Territory

When Kyle Minor’s collection, In The Devil’s Territory, came out last year, I was, I’ll admit, a little scared to read it. Scared, on the one hand, in that way that I’d met and even hung out with Kyle a handful of times, and also I knew the people behind the press publishing the book, and so if I didn’t love it, what does one do? Do you conveniently never bring it up? Do you lie and say how much you loved it? But, on the other hand and much, much moreso, scared in that way that I knew, from having read a little of his work here and there and from the glowing praise it was getting from people that I admired too much to not believe in, that it was going to be amazing and, frankly, brilliant work can be scary for a writer. Instead of spending my time writing obviously lesser stories, couldn’t I just somehow give Kyle some of my energy so he can hurry up and write another collection, or a novel, or even a nonfiction book. Needless to say, it was the latter.

Photo by Miriam Berkley.

We’d talked a little before about his trips to Haiti — the stories about which could make you want to do nothing but drink and hang out with him for days, continually urging on “one more story, one more,” not to mention his years, as he mentions in passing below, being, among other things a preacher — and so when he mentioned the idea of doing a fundraiser reading for Haiti, we jumped at the idea. Both for the good cause and for the excuse to bring him to town. Below is a short interview about, among other things, how and why he became interested in Haiti. Come out and see him read (along with others, including Philip Graham, Okla Elliott, Sean Karns, and Harriet Green) at the next installment of Smile Politely and Hobart’s co-hosted Stories & Beer (Tuesday, May 11th, from 5-7). And come with some cash, read to donate for a good cause and hopefully win some raffle prizes to boot. Thanks.

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Aaron Burch: So, first off, simply: Why Haiti? By which I mean, less simply, not so much “why raise money for Haiti” but, how did you personally become interested in Haiti? When and how did that happen? I know you’ve spent some time there while researching and working on a book, but can you give some background about how that came about, maybe how many times you’ve been, and those kinds of details?
Kyle Minor: I’ve dabbled in film and screenwriting, with minimal success, but I try to keep my hand in it, because it’s something I want to do. A director approached me about doing a film about child domestic servitude in Port-au-Prince in 2005. He sent the book he planned to option. By time it all fell through I had been studying Kreyol, and I had been reading everything I could about Haitian history, reading around in Haitian literature, and just generally falling in love with the country. So I just went down anyway, because I wanted to go. My first visit to the country, I was riding in the back of a truck, going up a mountain, and the man sitting across from me told me a story about a Haitian man whose daughter had been abducted for two hundred thousand dollars ransom after a gang of thieves broke into his house and came in firing guns. I said, “Can I meet this man?” and my new friend said, “You already have. He’s driving the truck.”

Aaron Burch: The basic writer question: have you always know you wanted to be a writer? How/when did you know? Your first book, which I really loved, is stories, all of which, I believe (and I could be wrong here), are set not only in the States, but primarily in regions you grew up and have lived in. So, tying this back to Haiti, I’m curious if you’ve always had a desire to travel; and, if so, is that tied to writing at all? Did you always have an interest in writing any and everything (stories, novels, nonfiction about kidnapping in Haiti) or did some of that interest really grow out of your specific circumstances?

Kyle Minor: I’ve been a grocery bagger, the de facto night manager in a dairy cooler, a radio station manager, a disc jockey, a preacher, a temp worker at Sysco, a clerk at a law firm, an editor at a religious publishing hosue, and a peddlar of third-rate college educations. Lately I’ve been a teacher. I’ve always been a reader, but the act of becoming a writer had mostly to do with the ways all my failures and preoccupations needed an outlet. It’s the first thing at which I’ve been very successful.

Aaron Burch: When we were talking about doing this reading as a fundraiser, you asked if we could do it specifically for “Helping Hands in Motion.” Can you maybe just give a little info and broad strokes about them and what they’re doing in Haiti?
Kyle Minor: Helping Hands in Motion is an umbrella group that helps fund a variety of charities in Haiti, including the orphanage where I often stay when I’m in the country. They are earmarking all the money from this fundraiser to rebuilt houses in the village of Callebasse. The houses are sturdier than any in the village. They are manufactured in Haiti, and all the money stays in the country. And all the labor to put them up is done by volunteers from the States, the city, and the village. They are doing it so efficiently that they can put up a house for one thousand dollars. My goal is to help them build two of them by doing these reading/fundraisers.

Aaron Burch: Again, when you asked about doing some kind of fundraiser reading, you specifically mentioned wanting to “raise some money toward the rebuilding of my friend Gardy Charles’s house in Ouest Province, Haiti. Gardy is my translator when I’m in country. He lived with eight family members in a two room concrete block house which crumbled in the earthquake.” Both from the first question and from having talked a little with you about your trips, and so knowing the kind of haphazard nature that you ended up in Haiti to begin with and the, more or less, unplanned schedules once you got there, I’m curious about how you me Gardy and how he became your translator. Also, how many times and how frequently, since that first trip, have you been back?

Kyle Minor: The first time I met Gardy, he was working as a translator for a Dominican dentist and a Canadian periodontist who happened to be one of the world’s foremost birchbark canoes collectors. I spent several days with these dentists. They pulled teeth and filled cavities. They sterilized their equipment on a kitchen table, and they used lawn chairs for dental recliners. At the end of long days at dentistry, Gardy and some orphans would challenge me and the dentists to a game of basketball. He had a wicked outside shot, but since I was taller than him I dominated under the basket. That’s how our friendship started. I try to see him every time I go back. I usually make it one or twice during the year and two or three times in the summer.
Aaron Burch: Finally, what are you working on now? Any big projects in the works? What should we maybe expect at the reading on Tuesday?
Kyle Minor: Tuesday I’ll read a little journalism about the kidnapping. I’m working on a book-length nonfiction book of which that’s part. I’m also at work on a novel and a new collection of stories.

Aaron Burch: Thanks, Kyle!

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Stories and Beer is brought to you in part by the Urbana Arts Grants Program.







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