Saturday, July 4, 2009

'Scribbling kid' Cary Clack publishes memorable columns

If you have never read Cary Clack’s columns in the San Antonio Express News, you’re in luck. Trinity University Press has just published 84 of more than 2000 of Clack’s columns in book form, Clowns and Rats Scare Me (ISBN 978-1-59534-037-5, Trinity University Press, 2009, $16.95). Clack’s thoughtful and often humorous commentary examines national issues such as terrorism, politics, civil rights, and culture and scrutinizes the mundane—Martha Stewart, strip joints, clowns, rats, and snakes.

Clack credits the late Maury Maverick, Jr., legendary civil rights lawyer and journalist, for jump-starting his career. “Were it not for Maury,” Clack writes, “I wouldn’t have this column. He’s the one who took some of my scribblings to the editorial board a few years ago, and that led me to getting a column on the op-ed page and eventually getting hired.”

Some of Clack’s most soul-searching and provocative commentaries focus upon September 11, 2001. In 12 days at Ground Zero he hammered out 12 heart-breaking, poignant columns that seized the surreal tragedy that brought our nation to its knees. “The world as we know it ended Tuesday,” writes Clack. “The two airliners that destroyed the World Trade Center not only changed the geographic landscape but also forever altered the nation’s psychological and emotional landscape.”

Naomi Shihab Nye’s foreword to Clowns and Rats Scare Me pays homage to Clack’s skill in capturing his readers’ attention. “Cary Clack has a brilliant knack,” Nye writes. “More than one, actually. He writes in strong, surprising sentences, with an uncluttered, sparely elegant tone.”

Clack’s knack, however, occasionally arouses contentious feedback from his readers. One column he wrote on ethnic cleansing in Bosnia generated a heated comment that called him “a scribbling kid.” Instead of responding negatively to that characterization, he embraced it. “The truth is,” says Clack, “that growing up in San Antonio, Texas, I’ve always been a scribbling kid. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Wyatt, who was also my mother’s first grade teacher, told my mother I would be a writer. I don’t remember not writing.”

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