Songs and Stories at a Gathering of Writers

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Calling all Nashville storytellers (and there are a lot of storytellers in Nashville): A Tale of Two Tims: A Celebration of Literature and Lyrics presents author Tim O’Brien, National Book Award winner and author of The Things They Carried, alongside musician Tim O’Brien, Grammy-winning Americana and bluegrass legend. O’Brien and O’Brien have been getting each other’s fan mail for decades, but they’ll meet for the first time on January 17, when they share the stage for a unique event supporting The Porch Writers’ Collective.

Founded by local writers Susannah Felts and Katie McDougall, The Porch is a nonprofit group that offers resources, workshops, events, and creative fellowship to writers of all ages in Nashville. We asked McDougall to tell us a bit about how they hatched the idea for this event, their first of this kind.

The “Tale of Two Tims” concept is pretty catchy. Where did that come from?

Author Tim O’Brien

Interestingly, it all begins at Parnassus (from whence all good things come). It was there that Karen introduced me to Korby Lenker, a local singer-songwriter who also has a book of short stories and essays. My partner Susannah and I subsequently met Korby for coffee, and while we sat at a crowded table at Dose bemoaning the fact that literary events don’t necessarily lend themselves toward being performative in the same way music does, Korby said, “What you need is a Tim O’Brien onstage with Tim O’Brien. It could be called A Tale of Two Tims.” A completely off-hand remark, just brainstorming. We laughed, sipped our coffees, and then I mentioned, “Well, I do know the author. I studied with him at the Sewanee Writers Conference.” Korby said, “I know the musician. We’ve played together.” And, that’s how it all began. I reached out to Tim in Austin. Korby reached out to the musician Tim. By early September, we had commitments from both.

What’s the significance of having both Tim O’Briens there?

It goes beyond the quirky same-name factor, although that part does make it fun (and a little confusing when discussing logistics). Our larger goal for the event is to raise up and celebrate the art of story. Both Tims are master storytellers — one through fiction, one through song. Not only will they each share their work and their talent, but they also plan to share insights into their crafts. In this sense, the audience will walk away not only entertained but also, we hope, enriched in how they think about story, which is so vital to literature, to culture, and really, to the human experience. Additionally, by bringing together this nationally respected literary icon with a signature Nashville talent, we hope to create a unique and celebratory historical moment that is especially well-suited to Nashville.

Other than raising funds, what’s the reason for this event? Why throw this party now? 

The Porch strives to foster Nashville’s writing community through all we do — our workshops, retreats, outreach, and events. As we are relative newcomers on the scene, we hope this event will help to get the word out about who we are and what we’re up to. But also, in hosting the event, The Porch is raising its glass to Nashville’s vibrant literary life, past, present, and future.

* * *

Songs… they’re like tiny books you read with your ears. We asked the music-Tim to tell us a bit about what reading has to do with his writing.

How have books influenced your writing?

music tim
The musician Tim O’Brien

I didn’t stay in college, so I’m always trying to catch up to what I should know. I did have one really good teacher in high school who hooked me into some of the good stuff — Hemingway, Alan Patton, Thomas Hardy — and left me inspired. I have a cycle of genres —  fiction, history, memoir, and spirituality — that I keep plowing through. They all stir my thoughts and then come in handy as sources when inspiration comes. My mom gave me a book called The Book Of Ebenezer Le Page by G.B. Edwards, and I ended up lifting some scenes from it for a song. I had a lonesome melody and chord progression looking for words once and I finally found the right lyric after reading Annie Proulx’s Postcards. Joseph Mitchell — I wish he’d finished his last book — is an ongoing inspiration, his sort of observation by osmosis.

Best thing you’ve read in the past year?

Jayber Crow by Wendell Barry. His description of the natural world is so beautiful. That’s a tie with Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, which is a hybrid combination genre. Her drawings combined with her story are required reading for anyone getting old or dealing with the elderly. I guess that’s all of us.

Favorite thing about shopping in a real-live bookstore:

Stumbling on things. Being able to read a few pages, try a book out.

What’s in your to-read stack?

Ragged But Right by Abbott and Seroff. I often read several books at a time, and I’m taking that one slowly. It’s a detailed history of African American music from 1880 to 1915 or so. Somewhere in this house is a copy of Bruce Chatwin’s The Viceroy of Ouidah. I bought that because I loved a couple of his other books, and because one of the early all-black reviews I read about in Ragged But Right was called “In Dahomey.” The subject of Chatwin’s book is the very same Dahomey. You read one thing, then you know enough to look for more on the same subject.

What’s on tap for you in 2015?

The biggest challenge and maybe the most exciting thing is launching a new download label: Short Order Sessions. It’s one-off songs, jams in my house and elsewhere, not related to any grouping of songs. There’ll be new tracks every month. The first one is called “Brush My Teeth With Coca-Cola” and it comes out on January 6.

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Event details: A Meet & Greet reception with the two Tim O’Briens will take place prior to the main event, and will feature drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres catered by Lisa Donovan, former pastry chef for Husk and creator of the Buttermilk Road Sunday Suppers. Seats in the front of the auditorium will be reserved for all reception guests.

The general admission program will feature the two Tims in performance and conversation, with Andrew Maraniss, author of Strong Inside, serving as moderator. Minton Sparks with John Jackson will open.

To purchase tickets to A Tale of Two Tims or for more event details, click here. (And for an interview with Tim O’Brien, the author, follow our friends at Chapter 16, where an article will appear next week.)

Psst… Rumor has it Korby Lenker may play a song or two as well. Korby, consider this our official song request?


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