Panegyric: Paul Starr

Quite some time ago, I stated on this blog my intention to write panegryics. But I didn’t. Until now.

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When I first met Paul Starr, by the Island Inn steps at the Viable Paradise writers workshop, he intimidated me. Here was a polymath: translator, author, musician, editor, programmer. A snappy dresser and a master of sarcasm. For sure, I thought, he’s going to consider me a schmuck. Now, looking back, I realize I never had anything to fear. For above all these things, Paul Starr is a man of great & humane heart.

Paul and I have in common a deep love of Japan. Mine is merely amateur, whereas his is professional. He lives a profession that didn’t really exist thirty years ago: translator of manga and light novels. He is a bridge, transporting the pop culture of one cultural sphere to our own, connecting creators and readers across oceans of incomprehension.

But he doesn’t stop there. Paul is nothing if not audacious. From the ground up, he conceived and founded two SF&F anthologies that then turned into a periodical: The Sockdolager!. He did so because he continually saw people whose writing he respected producing stories that were too idiosyncratic to sell, stories that deserved a platform. It was a noble aim. Out of his own pocket, he kept it going for nine issues, a respectable figure by the standards of the SF&F small press.

In addition to supporting the creativity of others, his own is relentless: music, fiction, postmodern web sites. But my favorite among Paul’s works are the nonfiction essays at We Had To Cross.  The pieces consist of moments, both internal and social. They are confessional, detailed, unsparing, introspective, and compassionate. They appeal to the common trapped nature of humanity, asking the reader to recognize that we’re in the basement together. There’s not a lot of room for free will in Paul’s writing, which I like. The undertow of existence makes frequent appearances. Two essays in particular, “Jack in Texas” and “On Target,” stand out. Each is a photograph from America in our time, a detailed portrait of people and places that typically don’t get much attention.

To read Paul’s work is to hear his laugh, his sardonic lilt, and the joy of his voice when he’s talking about something for which he has sincere enthusiasm (and there’s a lot of those). It’s the voice of someone whose willing to talk about difficult things, because he must, they bubble out. Guilt and anger are no strangers to him. He’s a man with a lot of scars, a man who can’t appreciate himself, which makes folks want to appreciate him all the more, to make up for it. Because there’s so much to appreciate.

Looking back at our first meeting on the steps, it’s funny how wrong I was. It has been a joy realizing just how wrong, and how great a soul is Paul Starr.

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