Mango Rash by Nan Sanders Pokerwinski hits the shelves next week
By Ken DeLaat with an appreciated assist from Donna Kipp
When I received a copy of Mango Rash I was knee deep in a bottleneck of work that needed to be done as well as in the midst of a reading list that rivaled that of a first year law student.
Thus, I asked Donna Kipp, a friend who is known to be an avid reader if she might be willing to give it a read and write up a few notes on the offering by Ms. Pokerwinski
She sent me this:
The title intrigued me from the start and I really wanted to know where it came from...but you need to read the book to find out that little tidbit.
This memoir tells a charming story of the author as a young girl moving toward adulthood and the challenges she faces along the way.
At the age of 16 and living in an Oklahoma college town, Nancy is excited when she and her parents have the opportunity to spend two years in American Samoa where her father will practice medicine.This is the young girl’s chance of a lifetime to adventure in a tropical climate and get away from the small town life she finds boring.
Once the family arrives and begins to settle in things are not quite what she had pictured in her mind and her early experiences toss her a few curves, yet as Nancy begins to find her way she discovers fa’a Samoa, the Samoan Way, is something she wishes to never leave.
The people, the culture and the beauty of the island changes her life. With many ordeals along the way including Hurricanes, a health crisis and (of course) boys, Nancy learns to appreciate not only the people she meets during her time in Samoa but also finds a new perspective toward her parents’ relationship and the way they face their own challenges... always together.
Donna spoke highly enough of the book that a decision was made to forego the aforementioned reading list and dive headfirst into Mango Rash.
Generally I am a notoriously slow reader. Nearly an entire Michigan winter was once lost to a Kurt Vonnegut novel and he can hardly be described as circumlocutory in his writings.
Mango Rash on the other hand got some immediate traction and I was soon delivered into the world of the author as a young person.
A young person who was uprooted from her Oklahoma home and transported across the globe to maneuver the nuances of life in Samoa. The storyline was compelling and the writer possesses an obviously strong set of wordsmithing skills.
I had scheduled a meeting with Ms. Pokerwinski and despite my efforts at finishing the book beforehand the last couple of chapters remained unread the morning of our get together.
We met at HTRJ discovering we both held Croton’s epicurean oasis in high esteem. Nan is a consummate storyteller with a gift for taking you along on her journeys and I found her company to be as agreeable in person as it was when accompanying her to Samoa during evening reads.
Being fairly forgetful (a rather chronic condition I can finally blame on age) I asked permission to tape our conversation. What I had not expected was the generally subdued (and eternally congenial) atmosphere in one of my favorite local haunts somehow seemed to draw a series of reunions among friends who greeted each other enthusiastically and engaged in multi table conversations that my device picked up on with more vitality than our rather low key chat.
Not willing to rely on my less than rapier-like memory, I emailed some of the same questions I previously presented but with some added awareness.
You see it wasn’t until after we met that I finished Mango Rash.
And it altered my thinking about the work.
Mango Rash transformed from a highly entertaining read with a healthy helping of charm to something a bit more.
Quite a bit more.
And here is our interview:
As a veteran of the print media field both on staff and freelance you are no stranger to writing.
Was this book always on the back burner?
When did you begin working on it and what led up to your decision to do so?
This book actually was not on the back burner. I had several other ideas for nonfiction books floating around before this one, but I was always too busy with my newspaper and magazine work to pursue them. Then, after attending my first writers' conference in 2004, I joined a writers' group in which we exchanged pages and critiqued one another's work. Just to have something to exchange, I started writing about my Samoa experiences. I'd always struggled to explain to anyone who hadn't been there what it was like to live on a tropical island as a teenager. The early drafts of the book were an attempt to do that and, in the process, understand why the experience had affected me so deeply.
You returned to Samoa. Tell us what that was like.
Did it help with writing the story or did it change the course of it in any way?
I returned in 1986, twenty years after I'd left. Coming back fulfilled a dream I'd had for all those years. It felt like a homecoming, because Samoa had come to feel so much like home during the time we lived there, and having to leave and move back to the States was heartbreaking. Fortunately, the 1986 homecoming was a joyful one—I was reunited with many old friends, and we took in the old sights, as well as new places that hadn't been there in 1966. Some of the changes were sad—a beautiful, palm-lined walkway along Pago Pago Bay where I’d spent happy times had been destroyed and turned into a storage area for shipping containers—but some places were unchanged, and the people were as warm as ever.
I’m sure that return visit informed the story, seeing how some things (and people) had turned out. I think it also reminded me how much a part of me the Samoa experience would always be.
It was a year that seemed to profoundly influence your life but the aftermath of your time there seems inundated with changes. Did your time in Samoa help you through this? Were you able to channel fa’a Samoa to help you cope?
That's very true—lots of changes and challenges were to come, and my time in Samoa most definitely helped me through all of those. In the Samoan people, I witnessed strength and steadiness in the face of adversity. There was no “why me?” attitude, but a kind of acceptance that was not resignation but grace. All part of fa’a Samoa--the Samoan Way. I tried to follow their example (and that of my mother, who possessed that same sort of grace) as I navigated my own difficult times.
Among other accolades you won 1st place at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association in 2018. This led to being contacted by a publisher. What led you to the PNWA?
I entered the PNWA literary contest because every entry receives two manuscript critiques, and I thought the input would be valuable. When I found out I was a finalist and that winners would be announced at the annual meeting in Seattle, I mentioned it to my husband and said, "Too bad Seattle is so far away—too far to go." He said, "You should go! Maybe you'll win the contest, and you'll get a publisher." To which my response was, "Yeah, right." But we went, and I won, and the judge who selected my entry was Lynn Price of Behler Publications, who offered me a contract.
What surprised you most while writing the book?
What surprised me most was that even after thirty years of writing for a living, there was still so much I could learn about writing.
Next challenge? Currently working on?
My next challenge is surviving all the readings and signings I have scheduled over the next month or so and then, if I make it through all those, lining up some more. Another trip to Samoa has been in the works for some time, and we're hoping 2020 will be the year for that.
In terms of writing challenges, just getting back into regular writing after concentrating so much on publishing and promotion will be a challenge! Right now all I'm writing is my blog, HeartWood (nanpokerwinski.com/blog), and my monthly newsletter, Mango Meanderings. When things settle down, I'd like to unearth some projects I've started but put on hold: a novel about outsider art, creativity and madness; a childhood memoir with themes of inclusion, exclusion, and individuality; and a project that combines autobiographical collages with micro-memoirs. Also, my husband, Ray, and I have kicked around the idea of writing children's books based on the fairy stories he made up to accompany the fairy houses he created for Camp Newaygo's Enchanted Forest event.
And there are lots of non-writing-related things I'm looking forward to getting back into: more photography, hiking, native plant gardening, and travels with Ray.
What are you reading right now?
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner, one of a big load of books I picked up at the last Croton Township Library used book sale
What book should everyone read?
I'm terrible at this kind of question. I can usually only think of the last good book I read. In this case, it's Educated, by Tara Westover.
There will be a celebration for the publishing of the book on Friday, October 25, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. at the NCCA-Artsplace, 13 E. Main, Fremont. It will be a chance to socialize a bit with some cool folks, perhaps hear the author do a reading and, of course, get a signed copy of Mango Rash: Coming Of Age In The Land Of Frangipani And Fanta.
Because it is a worthwhile read.
A very worthwhile read.
Busy that day? Well Nan and her book will be at Artworks in downtown Big Rapids October 29th, the wonderful Croton Township Library November 2nd, epilogue books in Rockford November 9th, and Newaygo’s Flying Bear Books November 30. Full details are in the events section of her website, nanpokerwinski.com.
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