Just weeks before Jack Kerouac published his faith-based road-trip epic “On the Road” in the summer of 1957, he sent a typed letter to The Chronicle’s book editor Bill Hogan. Kerouac hoped the esteemed literary critic would take notice of his second Stream of Consciousness novel, which he described as “a true story about the Beat Generation.”
“I always read your column,” complimented Kerouac Hogan, who was a powerful, yet humble, self-taught arbiter of literary taste.
Hogan had grown up in Piedmont, had written his first book review as a student at UC Berkeley, and had joined the paper’s staff in 1946 as a writer, working as a theater critic at one point. As a book editor, he wrote daily about the vagaries of the book world and was known for championing new voices – Kurt Vonnegut and Joan Didion, among many others – until his retirement in 1982.
This letter is framed, alongside that of another famous writer, Alex Haley, and still hangs on the wall of Hogan’s former study in the modest, bright mid-century modern home that he and his wife, Phyllis , built in 1950 in a quiet area. Mill Valley Street, Circle Way. It’s the same house their daughter, Mary Ann Hogan, an accomplished feature writer for the Oakland Tribune and syndicated essayist for the Los Angeles Times, spent her entire childhood — calling it “the house that rocked me.” “.
“Circle Way” is also, fittingly, the title of Mary Ann’s posthumously published memoir, released on Tuesday, February 15, which her husband, fellow journalist and media educator Eric Newton, completed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mary Ann died in June 2019, about a year after being diagnosed with a rare form of lymphatic cancer. She and her husband worked closely on the book until his death, with Newton eventually writing a moving foreword and final chapter himself.
“It’s a book about book people for book people,” Newton told The Chronicle during a recent interview in his sunny garden, a short walk from the small studio where his stepfather retired to write. , read, draw and paint. (Bill Hogan was a dedicated artist in his later years). And yet, despite his best intentions, he was never able to write a book himself.
When Bill died in 1996, Mary Ann found his stacks of paint-spotted personal notebooks in the studio. In these pages was revealed a man gifted with language, but who doubted himself and suffered from what we would today call the impostor syndrome.
“In my father’s notebooks, he sees himself smaller than life, doubtful, vulnerable,” writes Mary Ann.
He titled a notebook entry “Books that were never written”.
Decades in the making, “Circle Way” began as the career memoir of a simple journalist. But as Mary Ann delved into her family tree — going back to her great-grandfather Hugh Hogan, a West Coast lumber baron who helped build the city of Oakland — she ended up doing something a lot more vulnerable and expressive.
“Circle Way” is a collage of vignettes taken from the lives of Mary Ann and Bill, a hybrid of journalism and poetry, father and daughter. It is also a multi-generational reflection on writing, family and the thorny question of fate, in particular whether the unfulfilled dreams of a parent could be passed on to the next generation.
“Bill was in this very powerful position as a gatekeeper to mainstream media, writing for a major newspaper. How many words do you write if it’s 750 words a day, five days a week or more, for 30 years? That’s a lot of words,” Newton said. “Yet he always thought he wasn’t good enough” to write a book himself.
Mary Ann also struggled to write a memoir, despite her abundant output as an essayist, numerous awards and accolades for training hundreds of Chips Quinn Fellows, one of the nation’s top programs for journalists of color. of university age.
“Mary Ann wondered if there could be a hereditary reason why her father couldn’t do his book, and she couldn’t do her book? She said, ‘Has anything been passed down to me from generation to generation?’ “recalls Newton.
Mary Ann eventually overcame her writer’s block by doing the personal work of getting to know her colorful father and ancestors – including her great-uncle Howard Hogan, who served time for manslaughter in San Quentin before becoming doctor in Dallas – and so herself.
“She was truly her father’s daughter,” Newton said, noting his late wife’s incredible gift for words as well as her sometimes crippling self-doubt.
Looking over a box of clippings, correspondence and artwork saved by Bill, Newton explained that the unusual format of the memoirs, consisting of sketches and recollection excerpts, was dictated by “the Mary Ann’s beliefs in the nature of memory itself,” which is slippery, nonlinear, unwittingly poetic.
“Bill was a big Vonnegut promoter, and ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ was written in vignettes that bounced around time and space. Bill could be like that himself,” Newton said. sat in front of the fire here when we had family dinners and told a story about World War 2. Then the next story would have something to do with James Baldwin.
“Circle Way” includes a description of Bill’s interview with Baldwin in 1963, while flying over Utah. Then, in another impressive anecdote, young Joan Didion was about to post “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” when she nervously phoned Bill and asked if she could stop by The Chronicle newsroom on Mission Street to discuss his now esteemed essays.
Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, later wrote to Bill to let him know how much she appreciated their meeting, calling it “a real act of kindness that you have done”.
Newton promised Mary Ann in her final days that he would complete her memoir, her “unfinished work of her life”, and see “Circle Way” until it was published. He chokes as he read aloud the foreword he wrote in August: “On February 14, 2019, four months before he died, my wife left a card on my bedside table. He asked, ‘Do you want to be my Valentine once again and forever?’
“The answer is in these pages.”
Circle Way: Memoirs of a Daughter, a Writer’s Journey Home
By Mary Ann Hogan
(Wonderwell; 232 pages; $29)
O’Hanlon Center for the Arts presents the reading of the book “Circle Way”: Eric Newton, the widower of author Mary Ann Hogan, will read the memoir and answer questions. In person. 5:30 p.m. Thursday, February 17. Free ; proof of vaccination and mandatory masks. 616 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley. ohanloncenter.org
Passage of the book: Newton will read the memoirs and answer questions. In person. 1 p.m. on March 12. Free ; mandatory masks. 51 Tamal Vista Boulevard, Corte Madera. bookpassage.com