by Eva Apelqvist
Superior Writer Anthony Bukoski To Speak at Spooner Library
“I love this place!”
Superior writer Anthony Bukoski walks along 5th Street in his East End neighborhood, where he has lived most of his life. He points out Pudge's Tavern, which used to be the Warsaw Saloon, which then became Nadolski’s Tavern, then turned into Heartbreak Hotel—in Bukoski’s stories. The bar now stands out for its almost otherworldly flower arrangements in front of the building. An art gallery comes to mind, not a bar. And certainly not a Heartbreak Hotel. But Bukoski paints a vivid picture of the neighborhood as it was. Even before his time. And we see rough, stark, bare. Flowers? Not so much.
Walking south on 5th Street, Bukoski talks with passion about buildings and churches and schools in the neighborhood, some still here and some long gone. Just like in his stories, Bukoski seems to, in real life, see and hear the people and places that were here before us, as much or even more than he hears and sees what is here now.
Slices of the vast, gray Lake Superior can be glimpsed through openings in the Superior street grid or here and there behind an idle backhoe at a construction site. People wave. “Hi there, Tony.” He chats, waves, stops in the middle of a street for a conversation.
Bukoski’s sense of beauty is strong and odd, though he continuously refers to himself as a curmudgeon, a bitter old man, happy in his bitterness. He has a deeper respect for nature than most, and doesn’t seem to need lush parks or a vibrant downtown to love his city. You might say his love is unconditional.
“This is an ugly rundown city of ugly people,” he says, affectionately. “And I’m one of them.”
Bukoski speaks dreamily about the old ship yards, the grain docks, the ore docks and the beaches, untamed, with their cold, cold water. “Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t swim in Lake Superior.”
Bukoski’s books are like his personality; they describe life in Superior with complete acceptance of its many layers. And as Bukoski seems to walk with spirits of the city’s past surrounding him, so also do his stories. While steeped in Polish culture, there is a South American flavor to his storytelling, an element of Magical Realism: the sense of time as something almost biological, as opposed to chronological, a portrayal of the fantastical aspects of life where dreams and memories are so tangible you can almost touch them. Bukoski’s stories are deeply anchored in the Polish-Catholic world of Superior, but his details about the human condition and our common life will make his readers gasp with recognition. The stories are sometimes sad: a young Polish man jumping ship to seek refugee status but then changing his mind, whether from missing his home, or because he doesn’t want to be a burden, or because he fears a bad ending anyway; an old woman whose traumatic World War II experiences in Poland can only be healed by the waters of northwest Wisconsin, waters threatened by business interests, greed and stupidity. But love and affirmation grow in the dark soil of Bukoski’s stories; two Polish immigrants finding each other in their loneliness and, of course, the water, always the water, as a sacred entity and a symbol of hope.
While faith is evident everywhere in Bukoski’s books (as he does with everything else, Bukoski puts the Catholic religion as he sees it out there, raw and unfiltered, then looks at the whole mess with love) the closest thing to holy in Bukoski’s stories is indeed water. Bukoski gets incensed when talking about disrespectful treatment of water. Our water influences everything, he says. Lake Superior causes the weather that “makes the Poles and the Swedes drink.” It creates fog. It brings sailors. It brought his own ancestors from Poland not terribly long ago. (And in Poland, the mighty Baltic Sea is located just to the north, just like Lake Superior sits north of Superior.)
Though he has spent many years away from Superior, Bukoski says he doesn’t want to leave anymore. He feels rooted to this place. “I believe in staying put,” he says. “I want to stay here because I know in June, I will find wild asparagus along the railroad tracks.”
Anthony Bukoski has five published collections of short stories that have received rave reviews in The New York Times, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, to mention just a few places. His stories have been read on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Chapter A Day, and he himself has been featured on PBS. He has been nominated for a number of prestigious book awards, including The Pushcart Prize.
In addition to being a lauded midwestern writer, Bukoski is a UW Superior professor emeritus and a former Marine who spent a year in Vietnam.
Bukoski will speak at Spooner Memorial Library on November 10th, at 10 a.m. as a part of the library’s Patron Appreciation Day. November 10 (1775) is also the birth date for the U.S. Marine Corps. As a former Marine, this is an important date for Bukoski, and he feels especially honored to be speaking to library patrons on this day.