Like any MFA graduate worth their salt, I have a shelf in my library reserved for the writers I’ve also called my teachers. I mean this in a very literal way, and not in the traditional my-work-is-a-marriage-of-Joyce-and-Tolstoy way of thinking about literary influence; the majority of my artistic mentors have been living, breathing men and women with office hours on Monday and Wednesday afternoons.
Pam Houston is one such writer. As the director of the graduate program in creative writing at UC Davis, she’s sold a lot of books to fledgling writers vying for a place in one of her workshops. I’ve often heard other students gushing about her first collection of stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness, a book that in many ways carved out the themes that would remain central to her work ever since, themes that might have emerged, as one reviewer remarked, “had an intelligent woman followed Hemingway around.”
Poster for Caroline Baudinet's exhibition "Feelings"
Homeland Security has a hard time buying Caroline Baudinet’s love for the West Coast. Arriving in San Francisco last week, the French artist said she was interrogated about her repeated visits to California. In her jeans, black work boots, and black leather jacket, Baudinet reenacts the scene with the humorless officials at SFO: Where are you going? Who are you staying with? How do you know these people? We are browsing at Riki Design in downtown Davis, where her photographs will be part of the Davis ArtAbout, and I’m noticing how customers stop to listen to her cut-gravel French accent. It’s hard to imagine the outspoken Baudinet playing the part of the obeisant tourist, but she assures me she kept her tongue in check so that she wouldn’t miss the opening of “Feelings,” her California debut.
The love affair with America started when Caroline was a teenager, and her father’s role in the Orchestre National de France provided her with several opportunities to visit the States. On her first trip to New York City, Baudinet insisted the family explore Harlem and the Bronx, as well as the usual tourist traps. She describes how her uncle locked the doors of the car when she tried to photograph black men rapping on the streets.