Sunday, August 31, 2008


Let's give three huzzahs for my friend Kaylene Johnson for the astonishing success of her recent book about Sarah Palin. Kaylene was in the first class of Spalding University's MFA in Writing Program, and I was one of five faculty members that first semester. We all stayed in the now defunct Super Eight Motel in downtown Louisville, between a halfway house for recovering heroin addicts and the inner city supermarket, which we haunted to appeased our sweet tooths. Half the time there was no hot water in our rooms, and the continental breakfast consisted of Lucky Charms in a Styrofoam bowl. But it was just a short walk to campus, and we didn't know enough to complain.

I live in Vermont and had packed best I could manage for what I suspected was a stay in a sophisticated city, suede shoes, a little blazer, some pashmina scarves. Kaylene came straight from Alaska with a couple pairs of jeans, some tees, and a floppy but comfy flannel shirt. I imagine she brought carry-on for the nine-day residency, and I found her refreshingly beautiful. And real.

In the evenings, after lectures and readings, several of us gathered in Luke Wallin's room and listened to Luke play guitar and sing. He didn't know many pop tunes, but, being a sheep who had wandered from the Mississipi Baptist flock, had a good repertoire of hymns, and when he played them, we sang along. It was October 2001, just after 9-11, and we bonded, sipping Kentucky bourbon and expressing our good fortune to be safe and among friends. I knew then from hearing Kaylene read on open mike nights that she had something. There was drive, of course, but there was also talent with heart behind it. You'll not find a false word in her stories. At this writing, the Palin book is #17 on Amazon's bestseller list, and I hear the memoir Kaylene worked on while she was at Spalding has been accepted for publication. She deserves it. You won't find a false word in her articles. And you won't find a nicer person. Check out her site:

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