As contemporary as the latest tweet, Coshnear’s men, women, and children cry out for the lost soul of America itself.
Daniel Coshnear is the author of a previous collection of stories, Jobs & Other Preoccupations (Helicon Nine Editions), which was awarded the Willa Cather Prize in Fiction. He teaches in a variety of university extension programs, including University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Coshnear works at a group home for homeless men and women with mental illness. He lives in Guerneville, California with his wife Susan and their children Circe and Daedalus.
In 2003, Coshnear was awarded the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award, and in 2005 the Christopher Isherwood Foundation Fellowship.
Daniel Coshnear writes about a dozen kinds of desperation and a few kinds of peace with mordant wit and the kind of emotional exactitude that clear a reader’s vision the way a sharp new flavor clears and challenges the palate. He is a thrilling discovery.
Words From The Author
Here are ordinary heroes trying to sustain themselves and their love in a climate of fear and selfishness and extraordinary distraction.
In the winter of 2011 Occupy was a phenomenon – hopeful and inexplicable. As despairing as the first two years of the Obama administration had proven to be, and more so with the results of the 2010 midterms and the rise of the Tea Party, Occupy proved, literally proved the existence, the presence of decency, fairness, intelligence, courage — all these terrific attributes we’d see and hear among our friends, but which at times could feel like empty talk or mere complaint, became real and tangible again, and most of all, sustained! I work nights in Santa Rosa and so I’d drive by encampments – tents on the lawn of the board of supes’ offices – at 11pm and again at 7am. Those were cold nights, often wet. A few mornings I brought donuts. And I was teaching at the time in Berkeley on campus and sometimes would drive down to Oakland to look at the scene there, too, sometimes to sit in and listen.
I’d been working with many of the stories in the collection, revising, shaping, looking for common themes — the last story really did come last — but I came to see that the kinds of conflict and resolution, when there was some kind of resolution, were not contingent on a single act by a character, but more on the choice to show up and be there, to be fully there. “Occupation” seemed like the adult response — the kind of courage and self-sacrifice most needed — and so it felt bound up with other themes, parental themes, in the stories.
How has your work in mental health informed your writing?
Since the early 80’s I’ve been employed in some kind of mental health facility, beginning with a group home for severely retarded adolescents in Greenwich Village, and years later in a sheltered workshop/treatment community only blocks away. These days I work nights at a group home for homeless folks with mental illnesses and I run a reading writing group once a week for men and women with dual diagnoses. I remember some years back sitting in a staff meeting/training session at a group home in Cotati. Ostensibly, for reasons to do with charting, to do with pleasing auditors and program-funders, the staff was being asked to employ a modified vocabulary. Rather than say the client (or program participant) said, we were to say he verbalized. Our clients didn’t sit on the couch and watch TV, they engaged in leisure time activities with their peers. Now I understood why we were asked to refrain from interpreting our clients’ expressions and behavior, at least in the charts, and why a detailed account of what could be observed could well be more useful to someone reading the charts and assessing the situation; but why we were being asked to communicate in this tight-assed, bureaucratic, wasteful lingo was puzzling. It was like were putting up some sort of clinical façade, but worse, we were building a kind of wall between ourselves and the people we were meant to serve. I think the challenge of the mental health worker is very closely related to the challenge of the fiction writer, i.e. to keep it, to make it, real and personal.