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After every picture, Sampsell said something funny, but there was a little pain around the edges.


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It wasn't easy to get from the Tri-Cities of central Washington to the Pearl Room at Powell's, and from the family he grew up in to the one that's grown up around the publishing scene he created. When it was time to answer questions Sampsell gave away copies of three recent releases from. I'm pretty self-taught.

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He ran naked from his Portland apartment and drove around town before winding up at a friend's house, where he sat in the bathtub, crying and screaming. He was working on two books at the time, "A Common Pornography" and "Portland Noir," an anthology of mystery and crime fiction. The memoir started as a series of memory experiments, short bursts of prose about his childhood that he hoped to turn into a short story. He found the exercise helpful in the way many writers use prompts to unlock their creativity, and published an early version of "A Common Pornography" in Sometimes when you're a little kid you don't remember everything that people say or everything that happens in your childhood.

She and Sampsell struck up an e-mail correspondence that "very rapidly became very flirtatious," she said. She visited friends in Seattle and arranged to meet him for the day in Olympia.


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Nine months later she moved to Portland. After his father died, Sampsell went to Kennewick, Wash. He talked to his half-brother and his mother and learned disturbing things about his father. There was little love and much tension in the house when he was growing up; now he was learning horrible secrets buried for a generation.

His half-sister Elinda was in a psychiatric hospital for 10 years and was given shock treatments and became pregnant by another inmate. The baby boy was taken from her before she could see him. When she came home, his father forced himself on her, and she became pregnant. She left home and got an abortion.

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A picture of his father, included in "A Common Pornography," shows a young man who Sampsell thinks looks like Woody Allen standing in a doorway with his arms folded. The corners of the photo are burned from the fire. What Sampsell learned about his father changed "A Common Pornography" and led indirectly to his breakdown a few months later.

A memoir about his childhood in the Tri-Cities and his artistic journey from daydreamy kid to edgy writer and publisher became something much darker. He saw the possibilities right away, and his agent sold the book to HarperPerennial, a division of HarperCollins, where the editors knew Sampsell from the small-press world. In the music business it would be like a little indie band being on a major label. A lot of the stories in "A Common Pornography" are about Sampsell's early sexual experiences. He's never been shy about writing about himself and said he has "a statute of limitations about shame" -- anything that happened 20 years ago or longer is fair game.

He didn't want to write anything about his mother or brother that was embarrassing to them but didn't show them the book in advance because he didn't want to have to censor himself. As a kid growing up in Kennewick ,. Sampsell dreamed of being a pop star.

A Common Pornography: A Memoir (Unabridged)

He wrote song lyrics in a little black book and showed them around at school. He put the titles on paper and cut them into the shape of records that he hung from the ceiling of his room. He was too lazy to take guitar lessons but dreamed of being a disc jockey and did go to broadcasting school and work for a while in radio.

Epidemic of pleasure limitation

In high school he wrote short poems he called "pieces," his first attempts at writing, but had no ambitions as a writer because he didn't read at home or in school. When he was 21, a girlfriend teased him about only reading music magazines, and that eventually got him started on true crime and Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


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From there it was a short step to other literary troublemakers, William Burroughs and Henry Miller and Terry Southern. He printed the small poetry books at Kinko's and sold them at open mike readings. He moved to Portland in with his girlfriend and opened Espresso Happening, a coffee cart named after his favorite band, Beat Happening. There was a lively reading scene at Cafe Lena and Umbra Penumbra and he dived right in, making friends and organizing his own readings. Once Sampsell started working at Powell's, first as Christmas help in and then as events coordinator, his network expanded exponentially.

Powell's is a labor of love for Sampsell, and the small-press section is where his heart lies.

KEVIN SAMPSELL discusses his memoir "A COMMON PORNOGRAPHY" | Skylight Books

When she became a teenager, she was sent to a psychiatric hospital. She entered the clinic at 98 pounds. She left two years later pounds, diabetic, having endured numerous shock treatments. Only at the end of the book do we learn what chance in life a person like this has. Skip to main content. Search form Search. Advanced Search. Event date:. Tuesday, February 9, - pm to pm.

Event address:. Skylight Books. Vermont Avenue.