Sunday, June 5, 2011

Diane Simmons new book: "Little America"

Journalists are shaped by what they read, but even more by those they watch.

In my career as a journalist, I observed outstanding talents: Emmett Watson, Barry Farrell, Dick Larsen, Bill Prochnau, Tim Egan, David Horsey and many others. In my first permanent job at a now-shuttered daily in suburban Bellevue, Washington, I spent a summer across from a young writer named Diane Simmons. I watched her cover schools with a speed, skill and smarts that deepened my understanding of what journalism should do.

As a smarty pants just out of college with vain notions of producing Joycean prose for an awaiting world, I thought my job was to write well and get famous. My goal was to move on to a bigger paper. The community was the topic and I would see people for what they were.

Diane brought a maturity to her work. She wrote stylishly and prolifically, as that newspaper's brash talents strived to do. But she also brought diligence to the seemingly small stuff. She knew that, while not every reader would follow her expose of a school district snafu or a witty feature on some personality, parents would certainly pay attention to what the cafeteria was feeding their kids that week. Diane understood that a newspaper existed to serve its readers. She didn't think a school menu was beneath her definition of news. She cared about her audience and minded details.

In 1980, Diane Simmons's first novel came out. "Let the Bastards Freeze in the Dark" told the story of terrorists shutting down a power station in Fairbanks, Alaska. Afterwards, Diane  left Seattle and moved to New York for a career as a college professor and fiction writer. She's done well.

Her latest book is "Little America," a prize-winning collection of short stories.

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