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Nola Studiola summer flashback: Irvin Peckham

Editor’s Note: Two years ago, writer and former LSU English instructor Alison Barker holed up in a pal’s un-air-conditioned Uptown New Orleans apartment to regroup during a whopper of a midlife crisis. To help her out of her rut, she started a blog, Nola Studiola; in it, every week, she posed the same five questions to a different artist. This summer, NolaVie looks back at those interviews, with excerpts from several.

Irvin Peckham

Irvin Peckham

Irvin Peckham, a professor of Rhetoric and Composition at Louisiana State University, is the author of Going North, Thinking West: The Intersections of Social Class, Critical Thinking, and Politicized Writing Instruction, and numerous articles on assessment and the relationship of writing to social class.

In his personal life, Irvin is a grass-roots musician, a mountain-biker, and a social activist. After losing his wife, with whom he was in love for 43 years, he turned his focus to writing about grief – using it as a way of working one’s way out of trauma. The real subject is loss and the struggle to recover, the loss of love that is almost too deep to imagine. His blues song sequence can be heard here online.

What makes you laugh?

What makes me laugh? I really don’t laugh much any more, although I know I will learn how to laugh in the future. I think I will say what used to make me laugh — maybe it still does. Cannery Row made me laugh — a lot. I was rolling on the floor. Catch 22 made me laugh. So a good humorous book can make me laugh — likewise a humorous movie. I used to love Peter Sellers. Dr. Strangelove made me laugh and laugh. I used to laugh at Ali and Sami sometimes (my dog and cat) — they do funny things together. I like the way Sami lies in the grass and pretends to be a lion and rushes out to pounce on Ali when I bring him back from my morning walk. My grandchildren make me laugh. My twin granddaughters (I just came back from visiting them) are very funny with each other. I loved the way Adeline would watch me hugging Vivi — Adeline would be around the corner, trying to decide whether she would let me hold her. Vivi would run to me all the time. Then Adeline suddenly started running into my arms, and Vivi stopped running to me.

How do you feel when you start a new project? When are you afraid? How does it feel different from being in the midst of a project, and at the end of a finished project?

When I start a new project? It really depends on the kind of project. Starting to build something around the house (I just feel that I am doing what needs to be done) is different than starting to write a new book or research for a new article. I kind of slide into them. So I don’t feel anything in particular.

I don’t think about being afraid about a project. … I remember in the beginning I would be casting around for a project — but that’s long over. Now I just have so many things I want to write. The words roll out of me.

And I don’t know about beginnings and middles and ends. I think there might be some sense of an end when I have finished something and I read it and think, finally, I got close to what I meant. But really — sometimes I don’t know when I’ve ended something. … For me, something is never truly finished.

I work best when I have my guitar near me. I almost always write like that. I’ll write a bit; then play and sing a couple of songs; then write a bit, then sing some songs. I also practice things I’m supposed to be practicing on the guitar — then go back to writing. If anything is my talisman, it’s my guitar — but it’s just because I love the sound of the music it makes. …

I don’t care about being invisible or flying. I just want to be in love again. That’s like having wings.

What fruit and what vegetable each deserve a week-long celebration?

Fruit: Strawberries. Vegetable: spinach. Artichokes.

Is there a time in your life you could have used a Nola studiola (alone, in New Orleans, semi off-the-grid, unemployed)? What’s one thing you’d be sure to do if you were ensconced in my Nola studiola?

Nola — I don’t think so. I’m learning to appreciate NOLA more. If I were ensconced, I would be writing on my laptop. And I would be playing my guitar. And I would be reading a good book, like the one I am just finishing — Birds without Wings.

What would be your ideal meal to eat on a wide, deteriorating balcony overlooking misshapen live oak branches, in the middle of a hot New Orleans summertime? What time of day would you suggest partaking of this meal? (It’s low 70s in the morning and high 90s by afternoon.)

The meal: It would always be evening for me. It’s lovely when the day is just ending and then to eat. My favorite meal would be pheasant — I don’t see that down here. Or quail. And spinach, probably creamed. And I love a good salad (with artichokes).

Really, my favorite meal is when Jesse and I are fishing in British Columbia and we bring back to the lodge the fresh salmon from the day and Luke, the cook, always does something wonderful with it, and we drink a very good red wine and eat the salmon. Sometimes we stop by an island on our way back to the lodge and pick up bucketfuls of oysters (where we are in BC, it’s like picking apples off a tree) and eat them, too. This is Heaven. Jesse and I do this about every other year (his friend owns the lodge J ).

Nola Studiola, founded by Alison Barker, is a website curated monthly by artists and writers in residence. This fall, Nola Studiola seeks New Orleans-based curators. Email Alison at for information. Read about the inception of Nola Studiola here.


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