The Hugh C Hyde Living Writers Series aims to expose authors who are culturally and stylistically diverse within the literary community and that was definitely achieved when it hosted a reading from State Out of the Union by Jeff Biggers. The event was held at the San Diego State University Love Library on October 3rd, and was an overall success. It was a nice venue, with enough room to house a small crowd and the ability to use the room next to it if they ran out of space. To add to the Living Writers’ goal, a diverse group of people showed up for the reading, and more kept arriving as 7 pm came and went. They even eventually had to open up that side room so they could set out a dozen or so more chairs. This is why I think it started ten minutes late as people trickled in and found seats and got comfortable. It also ended a few minutes late, and then there was a question and answer session. I certainly wasn’t complaining it was running long, and it didn’t seem anyone else was either. I think only one or two people left before the Q&A ended, and I do believe that makes for a successful event.
It didn’t feel like your usual readings, and I’m half suspicious that what he said was more memory and experience than reading a passage from his book. That said, I definitely had no problem with it. Jeff Biggers is a very charismatic individual, and the plethora of information he’s collected is amazing. He opened with a quote from Leslie Marmon Silko: “I will tell you something about stories . . . They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death.” A very powerful quote that led into the topic of Native Indians of Arizona and the difficulties they face with having their tribal lands cut in half by the U.S./Mexico border.
This shifted into the history of immigration and how Arizona has changed to use this “shock doctrine” for immigration and the border—officials were exaggerating the numbers to gain more attention to the problem and promote outrage. I particularly was drawn into his discussion of the history of immigration in Arizona. It used to be a very liberal state, much like California is portrayed as now, but through reforms in the mining companies and growing repression of the immigrant voice due to deportations and discrimination, the state became what it is today. Biggers repeated a few times that there is “too much shouting” and not enough facts about it. It doesn’t help that Arizona has become one of those states where people hear something and think ‘oh, there goes Arizona again …’ with a shake of their head and bemused smile. Overall I was surprised to learn that the border wars and the deaths associated have been blown out of proportion—the numbers have actually decreased over the years. It was really an eye opening experience, and if I wasn’t a poor college student I would have definitely bought the book after the reading was over.