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October 14, 2013

Sixties Extravaganza promises a groovy time

By Steve Lansky

I Just Hitched in From the Coast book cover

Sixties Extravaganza reunites an unlikely combination of alums on campus October 10 and 11: Merry Pranksters, subjects of the film Magic Bus, Miami English majors, and basketball players. Unlike the careful mechanics behind most reunions, this event sprang from a series of coincidences and interconnections among the guests, Ed McClanahan and Ken Babbs, and Creative Writing Program organizers and hosts, Steve Lansky and Eric Goodman.

Steve says: When I contacted former English major, Miami alumnus, and fellow writer Ed McClanahan in the winter of 2010-2011 asking if he would like to return to campus for a reading he sounded very interested from the start. He had a new book coming out: I Just Hitched In from the Coast.

Ed says: “I’ve long entertained the fancy that someday I would see all my favorite stories artfully assembled—by me, of course—in a single volume, but that pipe-dream took on new urgency when I realized that my book A Congress of Wonders—comprised of three novella-length stories including “Finch’s Song,” the story I want to be represented by when I stand before that Great Literary Panel in the Sky—had gone completely and permanently out of print. Eek!

I Just Hitched In from the Coast: The Ed McClanahan Reader is a gathering of 14 previously published stories, an admixture of fiction and non-fiction, memoir and imagination. The three Congress of Wonders stories—which are inter-connected, especially by the presence in all three of my favorite character, Dr. Philander Cosmo Rexroat—provide a sort of narrative backbone for this assemblage of otherwise pretty disparate pieces, written as they were over a span of more than forty years.”

Steve says: Ed suggested I also contact Ken Babbs, after telling me about Babbs’s new book, Who Shot the Water Buffalo?. Lo and behold, Babbs is also a Miami English major alumnus. I spoke with Creative Writing Director Eric Goodman, who had been at Stanford in the mid-seventies, coincidentally the same time period when I was in Palo Alto “studying” the Merry Pranksters. Goodman was thrilled with the idea of bringing both McClanahan and Babbs to campus. Then Eric learned that Babbs had played on the 1958 MU Sweet 16 NCAA tournament team. Richard Shrider had coached not only that team, but also a later team that included current Head Coach Charlie Coles, so Eric wanted to get Babbs and Coles together.

Ken on Ken: Ken Babbs graduated from Miami University and was in the Graduate Writing Program at Stanford University. He was a Marine Corps Captain and flew helicopters in Vietnam. He got off the helicopter and on the bus. He was a working partner with Ken Kesey and a founding father of the Merry Pranksters. He helped Ken Kesey write the novel Last Go Round. He co-wrote the photo journal On The Bus. He wrote and edited The Cassady Issue, a small press publication. He has worked as a movie maker, sound engineer, farmer, writer, performing artist, builder, teacher, graphic artist, musician, actor and bus driver. He and his wife live in the foothills of the Cascades near Eugene, Oregon. (Editor’s note: Read more about Ken in the Oct. 5 issue of City Beat.)

Steve: Once we had arranged for readings by Ed & Ken we went after the film Magic Trip. And as they say, the rest is history.

Both the film screening on Oct. 10 and the readings on Oct. 11 are free and open to the public. They will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Leonard Theater, Peabody Hall.