JIM SHULTZ: An open invitation to my 'book event'

Jim Shultz

This coming Friday evening (November 5th at 7 p.m.) the wonderful people at the Kenan Center will be hosting the first public event for my recent book: My Other Country, Nineteen Years in Bolivia. If you are interested, I hope you will join us. The event will be held in the Taylor Theater and admission is free. It is also the launch a new author talk series coming to the Kenan.

It has been four years now since my family and I moved to Lockport from Bolivia. People who know me here have learned my tendency to suddenly launch into some strange story about life in the rural foothills of the Andes — tales of traffic jams caused by cows, about ending up in the center of a South American revolution, or about rainforest monkeys that like to take things out of your pockets.

I wrote a good deal about Bolivia during our years there, including a book about its rebellions and articles for newspapers and magazines across the U.S. and Europe. I had never planned to write a book about my family’s life there. Memoirs are tricky things. Can you trust your memories? Who would be interested?

But I read something once, that if you are a writer you have not fully experienced a thing until you have written about it. As it became clear that our years in South America were coming to an end, I decided that I did not want to leave Bolivia without fully experiencing it. So I did write the book and then had the genius to publish it on the eve of a global pandemic that shut down the planet, along with book events planned in various places across the U.S.

Friday will be my first event for My Other Country, and it is appropriate that it will take place here, in Lockport, where my family and I have made our new home. It is a funny accident that I became, by moving here, our community’s odd writer-in residence. I have used this column to celebrate the seasons, to share some of the human stories around us, and to poke at political leaders when I see them letting us down. I have also written about Lockport nationally for the New York Times and for the New York Review of Books, where I am a contributing author.

One of the great things about writing for the local paper is that I get to meet my readers. Almost every day when I am out, someone stops me on the street, or in a store, or at the Nature Trail, and asks, “Hey, are you that guy who writes for the paper?” My usual reply is something like: “It depends, do you like that guy who writes for the paper?”

But inevitably these become some of the most interesting conversations I have here. People may agree with me or disagree, but all seem eager to talk about some of the things I have written about — the school district’s facial recognition cameras, the future of local solar power, or the interviews I did for my series, “Black in Lockport.”

My Other Country is different. It is the story of what happens when a young couple in San Francisco move to a foreign country that no one thinks about much, and accidentally make a life there for nearly 20 years. It is about running an orphanage, adopting children, and creating a family in a very different place. It is about riding buses that are ancient Dodge minivans retrofitted to seat 15 people. It is about being teargassed and shot at while reporting on a public revolt over water. It is about becoming friends with people whose lives are nothing like your own.

It is also a story with a really unexpected twist at the end: Moving to Lockport across the street from our granddaughters and taking up a new hobby as a local columnist.

So on Friday, I invite those of you who have come to like my writing, to come and hear something different, something a good deal deeper, and more personal. For those who would like to read the book, we will have a small number of copies for sale at the event, with profits from the night going to the Bolivian orphanage where all three of my children began their lives. Our wonderful new local bookstore, Lock City Books in the Bewley Building, keeps copies for sale as well, and I have donated two copies to Lockport Public Library where it should be available soon.

I do hope you will join us if you can on Friday. I’ll be the tall, old gringo standing in the front.

[Note: In keeping with the Kenan Center’s Covid safety protocols, masks will be required in the theater.]

Jim Shultz is the founder and executive director of the Democracy Center and a father and grandfather in Lockport. He can be reached by email at: JimShultz@democracyctr.org.

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