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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Chicago author publishes story about escape
by Melissa Wasserman
2018-10-22

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Coming from a place of experiences and a vast amount of travel, Joe English has written his first novel, A Place Called Schugara.

English was born in Paterson, New Jersey, and came of age in Mexico City, Mexico. He graduated cum laude with a B.A. from Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and received an M.A. from Rice University in Houston. In earlier years, he worked as a ranch hand at the Wild Horn Ranch in Florissant, Colorado. He is also a Woodrow Wilson Fellow.

For 16 years, English was a professor at Triton College in River Grove, Illinois. Additionally, he founded Oak Park Real Estate in 1984, which provided safe and affordable housing, primarily, in Chicago's Austin neighborhood. For more than 45 years, English has lived in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago's West Side. English, the avid traveler, also maintains a residence in the Dominican Republic, where he spends much of his time.

He has two children that he and his partner of 28 years, Joe Towe, raised. He added Towe was a loving parent and instilled values of decency and integrity in his children, Carmen and Aaron, who are now grown, from an early age.

"The four of us were a family until Joe's passing in the year 2000," said English. "Joe and I did not flaunt our relationship, but we refused to hide it. We both were inspired by Harvey Milk, who with wisdom and foresight, taught us that it is every person's duty to themself to love themselves first in order to love others. To deny one's self is life-extinguishing. Doing so kills soul and spirit."

The book's synopsis begins with the question "Who among us has not dreamed of going to the corner store and simply disappearing?" It is a story filled with fear, love, tragedy, life, discovery, family, relationships, among other things, over the course of years.

A Place Called Schugara tells the story of Travers Landeman, a businessman from Ohio who fakes his death on the Caribbean island Mabouhey to flee from a loveless marriage, a failing business and blackmail. Landeman had a close relationship with his nephew, which slipped away. Matthew, a teenager, is sexually abused by his parish priest and reaches out to his uncle for help, but Travers turns away. Matthew then commits suicide.

When Landeman escapes to Mabouhey, he is injured when he rescues a child, Schugara, from a shark. Travers and Schugara's mother, Marguerite, fall in love and go on to build their home on the side of a volcano at a place they name after her daughter: A Place Called Schugara. The story continues with more twists and turns as years pass.

While Schugara is English's first published book, he has published short stories in the literary journal Co-Existence and in the anthology, After Effects.

Not classified as a non-fiction novel, English described this work as an editorial novel. The author admited stepping into the story at various stages.

"It is gratifying that many readers have found these editorial intrusions one of Schugara's strengths, especially readers who usually stick to nonfiction," said English of inserting himself into the story. "The reader, not the writer, is God. Much of Schugara is indebted to the naturalistic writers like Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris and Upton Sinclair. They, too, had a lot of Chicago running through their veins."

"Writers should write about what we know—either from practical experience, from living, or from imagination," said English. "Schugara is based on my West Side experiences as well as my travels throughout the Caribbean, especially my 109 trips to Jamaica."

English shared that after being perplexed and bewildered by an overnight re-segregation of Austin in 1970-71 and also hearing with horror Ronald Reagan denounce food stamps, among other experiences, it became increasingly clear to him that the United States' culture, was ever more desperate and entrapping.

It was during this time he began wondering what it would be like to simply disappea—escaping to leave it all behind and starting anew. So, he began writing an adventure story, of which he called "a tapestry of adventure stories, that blended together my puzzlements and musings with my newfound love of the Caribbean, incorporating bits and pieces of my 109 trips to Jamaica, mainly to out-of-the way places like Robin's Bay and Trelawny, against the backdrop of Austin, a soulful place in its own right."

In his novel, English said he weaves these worlds in which to examine various themes and questions.

"Schugara has taken up 25 years of my life to date, might as well spend the time left to me watering the seedling," said English, adding that he is happy to come in person to any group, especially book clubs, to discuss his book.

English shared that he hopes Schugara causes readers to think and to see with partially new eyes.

"What is taken for granted should never be taken for granted," English explained. "Of Travers Landeman, one of Schugara's main characters, I write: 'He had not taken the road less traveled by. No—he had taken the American superhighway, interstate, four lanes, median strip, Howard Johnson's, and it had taken him straight to hell.' We must learn to love ourselves and then to love others and then to act in love. We must seek ways to step outside accepted constraints—to question, to explore."

To learn more about English and A Place Called Schugara, visit sites.google.com/view/Schugara/home .


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