The works of Joseph Maiolo

Joseph Maiolo’s public reading of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” was an annual holiday tradition at UMD for over three decades.

Maiolo passed away this October, after retiring last spring from UMD’s English Department where he taught writing and literature for 38 years. It is fitting to honor his holiday tradition again this year, and one way to do that is to read Maiolo’s own writings.

My Turkish Missile Crisis: A Memoir from the Frontline of October 1962 (Zenith City Publishing, 2012). If you have read Robert Kennedy’s Thirteen Days, then you are aware that one of the sticking points with getting the Soviet Union to take its nuclear missiles out of Cuba was that the United States had its own nukes in Turkey.  

President John Kennedy had ordered those missiles, which were essentially obsolete, to be taken out, but the military ignored the order. During this tense international crisis in the autumn of 1962, Maiolo was stationed at a NATO Jupiter missile launch facility in Turkey near the border with the Soviet Union.

My Turkish Missile Crisis offers a unique perspective on an historical event, which Maiolo turned into an unproduced screenplay. Photographs of the young Maiolo, a nuclear missile, and a camel are included.

Saint Matthew in Appalachia: And Other Stories (Overcoat Books, 2012). This collection focuses on Maiolo’s short stories set in the Appalachian region of Virginia where he grew up.  

The title story, about a boy living with his Italian grandmother in an apartment over a store, is one that Maiolo used as the text for his annual holiday reading in 2011, giving it the subtitle “A Story for the Season.”

The collection focuses more on Maiolo’s early work, with a dozen other stories dating from 1972’s “Of the Cloth” to 1987’s “Covering Home.” The 1975 story, “The Legend of the Happy Swimming Pool,” includes a nice meditation on how a small town can demand “a subdued mediocrity” from its citizens.

Three Frays from Mallorca: And Four Stories (Overcoat Books, 2013). The title tale, labeled an “historical novella,” is a fictional account of Father Junipero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan friar who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

The rest are contemporary tales of men struggling with Catholicism, including “The Pilgrim Virgin,” a gentle portrait of a man looking for the mystery of his childhood religion, for which Maiolo won a 1994 Pushcart Prize for Fiction. He slightly revised the story for this volume.

I do not have a recommendation for the order in which you might read these books, but pay attention to the order in which the stories are arranged.

Three Frays from Mallorca ends with “Pray for Us.” The final line speaks for each of the characters, who “will spend the rest of his time awaiting the response he knows so very well but cannot for the life of him bring to his lips.”

An Arch of Birches and Other Stories (Overcoat Books, 2013). The cover might seem familiar because Doug Garrabranz’s photo, “Lena in Snow,” was the poster for last year’s holiday readings. Several of the stories in this collection are set in Northern Minnesota, where Maiolo moved in 1976. The title story, from 1989, starts with a lost dog during hunting season.

“Rats in the Palace” is a memory piece about an unusual Saturday at the movies. Three of the stories have not been previously published.

Boy Youth Man: A Triptych of Novellas (Overcoat Books, 2012). The first story, “A Boy’s Tale,” is about two brothers in a Catholic school for problem boys who have to rely on each other for safety.  

“The Error of the Rings,” which was performed by Colder by the Lake last May to celebrate Maiolo’s retirement, tells of a high school student charged with the responsibility to purchase class rings for the senior class, culminating in a rather memorable prom night.

Finally, “Man of Letters” is a letter from the writer to his estranged wife, telling her about a visit to the home of his aging mentor. Of all the final stories in these volumes, this one constitutes the most appropriate finale to Maiolo’s work, ending with his belief that writers exist “in a great, silent authority.”  

Overcoat Books is a subsidiary of Duluth’s X-Communication, which is owned and operated by one of Maiolo’s former students, Tony Dierckins.

The name of the publishing house, created to republish Maiolo’s work, comes from the literary adage he was known to repeat in his classes: Writers of short fiction “all come out from Gogol’s ‘Overcoat.’”

Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” is available, both by itself and in a collection with the author’s “One Christmas” and “The Thanksgiving Visitor” as a compilation of holiday tales.

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