Justin Hocking on surfing, trauma and The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld
When he hit rock bottom, DIY zine-maker and literary adventurer Justin Hocking started taking evening jaunts from New York City to Rockaway Beach, where he surfed the waves under the moonlit sky. He defied death; he navigated trauma; he searched the shadows of his soul. This period of self-exploration launched a new journey: the writing of The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld, a surfing memoir and a personal exploration of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. On Wednesday, April 2, Justin Hocking will be reading from his memoir at the Tattered Cover Colfax. In advance of this appearance, Westword spoke with Hocking about the book.
Credit: Anna Caitlin Harris Justin Hocking is the author of The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld.
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Westword: Talk about your work as a writer and the work you do in the DIY publishing world.
Justin Hocking: I was born and raised in Colorado and really got my start as a writer in the MFA program at Colorado State University. Since the late '90s, I've also been involved in zine-making and other DIY pursuits. I'm currently the director of a Portland-based nonprofit called the Independent Publishing Resource Center. It's a unique organization that combines elements of a DIY publishing company, a book arts center, a creative writing school and an artists' collective.
Talk about The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld.
The book's central thread is my ongoing obsession with Herman Melville and the novel Moby-Dick. There are endless ways to read and interpret Moby-Dick, but I'm interested in the novel as a kind of archetypal guidebook for surviving the night sea journeys -- or dark nights of the soul -- that we all encounter at various points in our lives. I was robbed at gunpoint in 2006, and went into an emotional tailspin in the wake of this trauma. I was living in New York City at the time, and started spending more and more time surfing out at Rockaway Beach, taking some dangerous risks, paddling out by myself way past sunset. Looking back, I realize I was in the midst of my own night sea journey. This dark voyage is what comprises the memoir's core trajectory.
Why a memoir?
One of several items I lost during that 2006 robbery was my laptop computer, containing the files for a novel I'd been working on for several years. I had some of it backed up elsewhere, but not all. It was a devastating loss, but I figured it was also the universe's way of redirecting my creative energy. The day after the robbery, my stepfather said, "Well, at least you have something interesting to write about." I hated him for it at the time, but he was absolutely right. I find that creative nonfiction comes much more naturally to me. The memoir genre sometimes gets a bad rap, but in my opinion some of the most exciting and affecting literature is being created in this form, by writers like Nick Flynn, Mary Karr, David Shields and Cheryl Strayed.
Read on for more from Hocking.