September 05, 2014, by Alan Weisman
In the last week Orion has lost two good friends, Ann Zwinger and Charles Bowden. Both of them influenced our thinking about nature and environment—albeit in very different ways.
Writing is a precarious way to make a living at best, and sometimes it gets just plain dumb. Among the dumbest things I ever heard was what a New York agent once said about author Charles Bowden, who died on August 30 from a yet-unidentified, sudden illness.
At the time of the aforementioned stupidity, I had known Bowden about six months. We’d met over the phone when mine rang in Prescott, Arizona, one morning soon after publication of my 1986 book La Frontera. “Weisman?” growled a basso profundo. “Chuck Bowden here. You know you just wrote the best goddam book about the border ever.” Steamrolling over my attempted thanks, for the next half hour he parsed my book in a stream of vocabulary so rich I felt incoherent by comparison.
At a symposium this summer in Alaska, Luis Alberto Urrea told me practically the identical story. His own call from Bowden awoke him at dawn; Chuck had stayed up all night reading Urrea’s 1993 book Across the Wire. But by then I’d heard it often. A dumbstruck young reporter named Luke Turf once described staggering from bed to see who was pounding on his door at 7:00 a.m. An outsized, rangy, sandy-haired guy in denim, his face craggy as a cliff, was waving Turf’s Tucson Citizen story about brutalized jailed illegal immigrants, yelling that he’d gotten it right. Turf, who’d just moved to town, had no idea how Bowden had found him.
The list goes on. And each of us felt not merely complimented, but anointed: One of the best around had just affirmed our worthiness as writers by acknowledging us as his colleagues. Which was why what Chuck told me that day in 1987 was so completely ridiculous.