Beth Marzoni

recorded in Kalamazoo, MI


Beth Marzoni

I’m Beth Marzoni and I live in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which was once, you may not know, the celery capital of the United States of America. It’s rumored that Elvis Presley was seen in this town right before he died, in fact, that this is the last place that he was seen alive, and there is also a rumor that he isn’t actually dead, but that he’s still alive and living here, in Kalamazoo, MI, that he works in the Burger King ‘cause that was the last place he was seen, that was actually two blocks from my old apartment. You might know Kalamazoo from the old Glenn Millers song, “I Got a Girl in Kalamazoo.” Kalamazoo’s an easy word to sing. It’s also an easy word to hum on a kazoo, which is what most people call Kalamazoo when they’re drunk and can’t say the whole word. Kazoo is what they call it, or K-Zoo, or The Zoo, all of them appropriate, The Zoo, perhaps, particularly, but that could just be because we’re sitting in Bell’s while I’m talking about this, and there’s a lot of stuff on the walls. Kalamazoo’s the kind of town where there’s a lot of stuff on the walls. I could have taken you to a place called Louie’s, which is a couple blocks from here, which actually just has dead animal heads on all of the walls. And all sorts of animals, not just deer. We’re talking, like, Buffalos and shit, but since Bryce and Emily are vegetarians, I decided against that. I was talking though, before I got on this diatribe, about how Kalamazoo is easy to sing. And I wonder if maybe that’s part of the reason why there’s so many goddamned writers in this town. I said that with too much weariness in my voice. I’m not weary of the writers in this town. A good friend of mine and teacher of mine Bill Olsen once, in this very bar, as a matter of fact, he was having a fund raiser for New Issues Press—which is located here in Kalamazoo, run out of Western Michigan University—he threw out a dare to the audience. You guys have met Bill, he doesn’t really throw out dares. He threw down the gauntlet. He said, I dare any small community in America, and he said, No, no, no, no, no, I dare any city in America to prove that they have a higher per capita population of writers than Kalamazoo. I dare them to prove that they have a higher per capita population of talent when it comes to writing than Kalamazoo does. And at first, I thought, Oh, Bill. But Bill doesn’t lie. Even when he lies, he’s telling the truth. And I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. And it very well may be true. It’s not just that Western is here, and that Bill and Nancy have cultivated a really good group of young writers that come and go, it’s not just that K College is here, and that Conrad Hilberry was a steward of that English Department, and now Di has sort of stepped into his shoes and promoted writing here. It’s not just that. People stay. John Rybicki has always been a stone’s throw from Kalamazoo since his time here. Bonnie Jo Campbell, National Book Award nominee, lives a small town away, and I think she was here before she went to Western’s graduate program. I guess what I’m saying is it’s not simply you come and you never leave. Maybe there’s some sort of strange gravitational pull, or the magnetic fields around this town are such a way, but this is the sort of place where you turn around and you run into someone who says, Oh, my book just came out. It’s true. And at the same time, that doesn’t feel oversaturated. And it’s happening on all levels. I have students who will come to class having spent two years in the slam scene in town and now they want to bring that into the classroom. And then you also have the uber-academic side of being in a town that has a PhD program in creative writing. What else do you guys need to know about living in Kalamazoo?

The Knox Writers’ House

What does that denseness of writers do to writers?


There’s always someone to share your work with, which is a pretty lovely thing. And you don’t just have to be in a writing program.

Poem by Muriel Rukeyser


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