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A peaceful memoir festival gets a harrowing tale

July 10, 2009 |  6:28 pm

Nickflynn This weekend the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, N.Y., is holding a memoir workshop featuring the poet, playwright and memoirist Nick Flynn.

The Omega Institute is a 30-year-old retreat -- the kind of place where communal vegetarian dining, yoga and meditation give shape to the day.

Seems like an odd fit for the author of "Another ... Night in ... City," a memoir with a title that's profane enough to send your average family newspaper into fits of ellipses, a book that Mark Doty called "ferocious ... harrowing."

In it, Flynn recounts his troubled family history: His mother committed suicide when he was 22, and later, when Flynn was working at a Boston-area homeless shelter, his long-estranged father surfaced there as a client.

"I couldn't imaging anything worse, really," he told Robert Birnbaum for Identity Theory in 2005. Yet he continued:

People say with the book sometimes, "How did you write this book, it has no self-pity? It's compassionate. Dah, dah, dah." I say you should have seen the drafts. They are full of self-pity and ridiculous rages. And I edited them out mostly because when you look at the stuff on page it doesn't ring true, actually. It does feel like a diversion from the essential state. Which, hopefully if you can get to it, is a little purer.

So maybe Flynn won't be as odd a fit with the authors of "The Guru Looked Good" and "A Monk Swimming" after all.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Nick Flynn. Credit: Carolyn Cole  Los Angeles Times