After 30 years, author receives critical acclaim

Jill Brower

In Dow Mossman’s 60 years, he has lived two entirely different lives. The first consists roughly of the first 30 years, during which Mossman produced a 576-page autobiographical coming-of-age novel, “The Stones of Summer,” released in 1972.

The second and perhaps more intriguing part consists of the subsequent half of his life, when the author disappeared from the publishing world entirely and then reemerged to critical acclaim for the re-release of “The Stones of Summer.”

Mossman had the chance to tell his story to the University community at Tuesday night’s first installment of the Sixth Annual Literary Festival, presented by the English department. Professors Lisa Sewell and Daniel Vilmure organized the event, the first in a series of six visiting authors.

The Festival integrates with their English and Honors class which discusses the books and meets with the writers.

“There has been a good deal of publicity about the release of ‘Stones of Summer,’ largely owing to the success of Moskowitz’s film ‘The Stone Reader,'” Vilmure said.

Mark Moskowitz, a Philadelphia filmmaker, became interested in the novel after rediscovering it on his bookshelf after several decades of gathering dust. Inspired by the novel, he and his camera crew set out on a crusade across the country to locate Mossman and find out why he’d never produced a follow-up book.

Mossman was not alone in only publishing one novel in his career; Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell and countless others have also published only one great work.

But separating Mossman from the crowd is that he was offered a second chance by Moskowitz.

Moskowitz’s 2003 film, “The Stone Reader,” brought Mossman’s novel to light and since then a new edition has been published exclusively by Barnes and Noble.

Besides drawing attention to “The Stones of Summer,” the documentary was also “used as leverage to talk about what has happened to the book culture in the past 50 years,” said Moskowitz.

Although he has lived a quiet 30 years in Iowa, Mossman’s recent months have taken him around the country talking about his book and the experience upon which it was based.

“The book is 93 percent autobiographical and I’m not going to tell you where the other seven percent came from,” said Mossman. “The truth is stranger than fiction.”

The novel follows its main character, Dawes Williams, through three decades of his life, in which Mossman’s poetic voice is undoubtedly heard.

“I realized early that I was a kind of poet always looking for a narrative,” Mossman said.

Of writers, Mossman said that there are inherently three kinds: “failed musicians, failed painters and pure writers.”

He considers himself of the first kind, though his readers might disagree.

Jon Seeyle’s original 1972 New York Times book review called the novel “a whole river of words fed by a torrential imagination” and “a sign of superior talent.”

“Dow is as lively as the characters in ‘The Stones of Summer,” Alex Abad-Santos, a senior in the Literary Festival class, said.

“The 75 minutes of class felt like five because you could listen to his stories to no end; he’s kind of like the crazy grandpa that you never had.”

Moskowitz, who introduced Mossman at the reading, described the book as “too interesting and too original to remain unknown.”

In speaking to professors Sewell and Vilmure’s class, Mossman likened the process of writing to painting or making music.

“Writing is unusual because your notes and colors are your ideas; it’s a hard medium,” he said.

Vilmure was able to bring Mossman to the University after obtaining his phone number from Moskowitz.

“[Moskowitz] was very supportive and thought Dow might be interested in our festival, but told me that he rarely answers his phone,” Vilmure said. “But 10 minutes later I called and he agreed to come.”

Vilmure felt the story within and surrounding Mossman’s book was an important one.

“A great book always has the possibility of being discovered and rediscovered,” he said. “The message to all writers is that you have to keep your hopes up as a writer before and after you’ve been published. Dow’s story is the rare happy ending of publishing.”