This from Steve Courtney of the Mark Twain House…
In case any Refugees missed Carole Goldberg’s terrific interview with Mike Downs in the paper on Sunday, it’s at
City Native Appears at The Mark Twain House & Museum on July 6, the 68th Anniversary of the Horrific Blaze That Killed More Than 160 People
|On a summer day in 1944 Ania Liszak, a young Polish housemaid in Hartford, steals circus tickets from her employer to take her three-year-old son, Teddy, to the matinee of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus. The tickets were for the afternoon performance on July 6 — a day that lives on in infamy in the city today, as aging residents still recall the horror of a fire that destroyed the Big Top and killed more than 160 people.
The story of Ania Liszak and Teddy is fiction, a moment in history recreated by author Michael Downs, who grew up in Hartford and worked for The Hartford Courant. In his short story, “Ania,” the fire nearly kills both and leaves them scarred in different ways: Teddy’s mother enjoys the beautiful strangeness of the scar on her face, but the patches across Teddy’s body inspire cruel schoolmates to call him “Lizard Liszak.” Over time, his mother transforms her pain into drama, while Teddy, having no memory of that day, seeks ways to return to it.
The story is only one of ten in The Greatest Show (Louisiana University Press), Downs’ recently published, acclaimed collection of short stories related to the day of the fire and its long aftermath, along with the emotions and collective memories it produced.
On the anniversary of the fire – Friday, July 6, at 5:30 p.m. — Downs will speak on the Hartford Circus Fire, describe his literary take on it, and read from the book at The Mark Twain House & Museum. A reception at 5:00 will precede the talk, and a book signing will follow.
The event is free.
Sheri Joseph, author of Stray, calls The Greatest Show “The work of a mature, compassionate, incisive writer with a talent for discovering strange surprises at the periphery of tragedy.”
Michael Downs, a Hartford native, is the author of House of Good Hope: A Promise for a
Downs was born in Hartford. He says that when he studied literary writing, a mentor told him “We write from where we get the wound,” which led Downs to focus on his hometown.
He has won literary fiction fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, and the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Arts. He teaches creative writing at Towson University in Maryland and lives in Baltimore, with his wife, Sheri Venema, also a former Courantreporter and editor.