Sunday, June 6, 2010

Artist's Statement and Introduction

Call to the Audience Testimony
Tucson City Council Regular Session
June 8, 2010

I am a fiction writer. For the past four years I’ve been working on a novel about Tucson. It is a story of love and politics, of the landscape and its people, of marriage and family and of America at the turn of the 21st century.

I am here today to introduce the production of a new piece of performance art. The project is called Tucson, the Novel: An Experiment in Literature and Civil Discourse. The project is intended as a statement about art and community, and as a demonstration of the potential for literature as a tool for civic engagement. And it will use as its stage this podium, these meetings, that TV camera and this system of democracy. 

Beginning next Tuesday, my project will be to serialize my unpublished novel in progress, three minutes at a time, by reading the entire manuscript here at Call to the Audience. 

A guest reader or I will read at every regular council meeting until we reach the final page, or until the book is published.  Whichever comes first. Let’s hope for the latter, because the novel is just over one hundred thousand words in length; in 3 minutes I can read 500 words. So reading it in its entirety will take six years, more or less.

This project is literary activism.  The story I will tell at this podium each week describes that which is wonderful and that which is awful about this city. How we're doing it well and how we're screwing it up. How the individual is responsible for the world in which she lives. This project is my response to the shame that Arizona has recently brought upon itself through its state-sanctioned racism, and it is a rebuttal to those values. It is a reminder that here we don't live in Arizona; here we live in Tucson.

In its truest sense, the word “publish” means “to make public.” This project, then, is an act of grassroots publishing. It is a direct delivery of the product from its creator to its consumers. It is a call to my audience.

My novel is still a work in progress. One important goal of this project is to observe the impact on my revision process of reading it aloud to the city I wrote it for and about. I will document the project and invite artistic and civil discourse at

Tucson is my hometown. My family moved here in 1979, and that fall I began my freshman year at Santa Rita High School. I have been both a student and a faculty member at the University of Arizona. My first creative writing teacher was Edward Abbey. My second, and my most influential early on, is Meg Files at Pima Community College.

After college I lived in Manhattan for seven years but I came home to Tucson to raise my child. I have worked in Tucson as a cocktail waitress, a truck driver, a bartender, a receptionist, a temp, a salesgirl, a fundraising consultant, a grantmaker, a business owner, a nonprofit executive director, and now as a teacher and writing coach.

My work has been recognized with a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2006, the O. Henry Prize in 2008 and the Pushcart Prize in 2009. It has been widely anthologized, including most recently in a textbook of required reading for incoming freshman at the U of A. I have taught creative writing at the Gotham Writers Workshop, UCLA Extension, ASU and here at the U of A. I am the former executive director and the current fiction editor of Tucson’s own Kore Press. 

This novel is my love letter to Tucson. I hope you enjoy it. See you next week.


  1. Shannon, this is a pioneer action, a demonstration of brilliant activism by a brilliant woman. Your courage is astonishing, your creativity a startling inspiration. I love you! Thank you!!!! I eagerly look forward to every breath and will share with everyone.


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  3. Shannon,
    This idea is very cool, like you. Will send to all my Tucson/Tumamoc-loving-friends. Can't wait to read your book.
    Susan Tarrence

  4. This project is the definition of splendid. You inspire me, Shannon Cain. Long may you scribble. :CA:

  5. I love this idea. I'm part of an ad hoc group which ambitiously calls ourselves the Future of Publishing Think Tank, and I'm sharing your blog with them.

  6. So very cool! I've just been reflecting on a great article about our need for Public Intellectuals, and look, here you are now!

    Kelcey Parker

    [Here's the article link:]

  7. This is a good way to liven up the City Council meeting. Good for you!

  8. Everyone, thank you for your support! It means a whole lot to me as I stick my neck out in this bizarre way. Kelcey, I can't wait to dig into that looks perfect. I hadn't considered myself a public intellectual, but maybe that's what I'm becoming. Hm. Certainly fodder for a new post.

    As is the Future of Publishing Think Tank! Sounds great, Cheryl. I certainly see this project as a sort of end-run around the publishing industry, but also (and in contradiction) a possible way into it...building an audience for the novel as I go. Feeling my way here. Lots more to say on this. Thanks for the prompt.

  9. this is so beautiful shannon. i've been a little obsessed about SB1070 and immigration reform.... reading your statement brought tears to my eyes. thanks -- i'm so looking forward to following this project!


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