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A mingling of prose and pop culture

BY MARISA WAY | FEBRUARY 11, 2010 7:30 AM

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When he was working on the book By Myself: An Autobiography with longtime friend David Trinidad, one could say that D.A. Powell heard music.

Powell, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, mentioned the concept of By Myself casually to Trinidad in a conversation over the phone. Trinidad was intrigued by the idea and suggested working on the project together. What resulted was a creative, spontaneous, and hilarious collaboration that is best described by Powell, who compared the experience to the musical partnership between singer Billie Holiday and saxophonist Lester Young.

“They both know the melody, and they both wander away from it, and yet they’re never out of harmony,” Powell said. “They’re always listening to each other, and they’re always responding to each other in these marvelous and inventive ways.”

The reading will take place at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., at 5 p.m. today. Admission is free.

By Myself: An Autobiography was written through e-mails between the two writers. The project took about eight months.

The reading will be the first time Powell and Trinidad have read from the book, and it may very well be the only time. Powell is an associate professor of English at the University of San Francisco, and Trinidad teaches undergraduate and graduate-level poetry classes at Columbia College in Chicago.

Their busy schedules, as well as geography, made it difficult for the authors to schedule readings.
Iowa City won out over much larger cities — such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York — for the chance to host this reading.

“There’s a wonderful bookstore there,” Powell said. “There’s a terrific audience of writers who will be very interested in the project, and there was no other place that we both wanted to visit.”

By Myself is a project that was not only a collaboration between Powell and Trinidad but indirectly among 300 celebrities. The book is a collection of single lines from 300 separate celebrity autobiographies and memoirs. The result is a character who is rather void of all demographics — one that ultimately transcends sex, ethnicity, and age stereotypes.

“It’s a collage,” Trinidad said. “There was always that fine line between being coherent and not. It feels like it makes sense, but when you look closely, it doesn’t really … it’s slightly out of focus.”

However, both writers agreed that one aspect of the book was clear from the beginning.

“My goal was just to have fun and see where it went,” Trinidad said. “When I read this, I laugh out loud. It’s meant to be fun.”

The authors also said By Myself: An Autobiography is a collage in the greater sense that it combines literature and pop culture. The book’s ability to be both is reflective of the authors’ interests and senses of humor.

“David and I are both avid film buffs,” Powell said. “We are avid music buffs — we love popular culture. So I think that was how we decided on this project. It was a natural extension of who we are as people.”


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