Charles Baxter-nc -mts -cd

Nicole Capozziello

I have been familiar with the work of Charles Baxter since I saw him at the Wisconsin Book Festival when I was 17. During this event, I was one of a couple thousand people in Madison’s Orpheum Theater, seated in the dark next to my dad.
My dad still talks about how impressed he was by “the guy that wasn’t Jeffrey Eugenides,” the headlining author I had dragged him there to see. Since then, like any good English major, I have amassed Baxter’s books from used bookstores, picking up a signed copy of “Burning Down The House” and snagging “The Feast of Love” from its shelf in a Goodwill.
I even happened to read “The Feast of Love” over this last spring break, one of only a handful of pleasure reads I have found time for in the last year. When I found out on the first day of creative writing class that Baxter would not only be visiting campus but that we would have the opportunity to eat lunch with him, it seemed too good to be true. Indeed, it was.
Baxter graced Appleton with his presence Friday, Apr. 18 as part of the Fox Cities Book Festival. As a student in Professor David McGlynn’s Creative Writing: Non-Fiction class, I was lucky enough to attend a lunch and question and answer session Friday afternoon, preceding the reading Baxter gave to 100 or so Lawrence students, faculty and members of the community in Stansbury Hall.
Baxter is the author of 14 works — novels, short stories and nonfiction — and is currently a creative writing professor at the University of Minnesota. He read an excerpt from his latest novel “The Soul Thief” as well as his most well-known novel “The Feast of Love,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2000.
My “lunch” with Charles Baxter was, in short, disappointing, largely due to my choice to be consistently late to everything semi-important. By the time I arrived at 12:31, the lunching had already occurred and Baxter, along with a throng of students — mostly members of my class — had moved on to the Q&A session. My hope of casually lunching with Charles Baxter was deflated, the extra minute of effort I took to put in earrings, pointless.
Seated by the grand Riverview fireplace, Baxter answered specific questions pertaining to his works, influences and writing style. He also suggested prime places for writers to observe people and offered tips on writing exercises.
Baxter ordered us all to keep a notebook on us at all times — in the kitchen, the car, next to the bed — and write down any keen observations or story ideas. “Those are gifts,” Baxter said. “If you don’t write them down, they’re gone, lost forever.” I write this down now only to remind myself.
I am not sure what exactly I thought would occur during this lunching experience, though I did expect to utter more words to Baxter than the one rather dim question I managed to ask. Though I had recently discussed one of Baxter’s essays in detail in class and put down his novel, satisfied, only three weeks ago, all I could think to ask the man was about his feelings on the rise of electronic books.
My only condolence lays in the fact that Baxter, like myself, thinks that this trend is terrible. Perhaps next time our paths cross, and I am sure they will, I will be ready and maybe, just maybe, even on time.