Below PM Press folks share a couple of memories of our times with the indelible Terry Bisson.
“I only knew TB by reputation when he agreed to do a West Coast tour promoting the new PM Press book Love and Struggle. The author, David Gilbert, was a close friend and comrade of TB, and serving a life sentence in prison. Having been the editor of the book, TB also volunteered to help with promotion. I’d do the driving and selling of the books, and TB would read and answer questions. A doomed plan, and a wholly thankless job.
Pulling up to TB’s house, I was greeted by a small man holding a greasy black school bag containing everything he needed for a weeklong road trip. He seemed skeptical, maybe because his chauffeur was considerably younger than his youngest child. When I opened the trunk, he saw that in addition to the boxes of books we were meant to be hustling, I had also packed my fly-fishing gear. TB smiled, pulled out a can of chew, and asked if I had read any Rexroth.
Our first stop was Portland where TB would be sharing the stage with a local activist. Arrangements were made to meet up at her house and prep for the evening event. We grabbed food from a taqueria and arrived on her doorstep with mouths full of carne asada steak. She took one look at us and announced that dead animals were not permitted in her home. In his smooth, Kentucky drawl TB asked, “Does she mean us, or the burritos?”
Our final destination was Bellingham, WA. After reading to a handful of indifferent college students, TB insisted we stop for a drink. I’ve never been much of a drinker, but whiskey with TB was not something to be missed. How many people do you know who can provide professional feedback on a manuscript, and practical advice about purchasing a used pickup truck?
TB loaded up the digital jukebox with Merle Haggard, and held court in his subtle, non-boisterous way. His good humor was infectious, and the woman behind the bar suggested she buy us a couple rounds. We agreed this was a good idea, oblivious of the jealous man shooting pool in the corner. Close to midnight, we found ourselves surrounded by a circle of unhappy drunks. Something about an angry boyfriend wanting a word with me? For reference, TB stood maybe 5’5″, and I’m built more like a figure skater than a linebacker. I remember thinking how lonely this life can be. On Monday you’re kicked out of a house for violating a Portland shibboleth, and on Saturday you’re about to get your ass kicked for violating some half-baked redneck point of honor.
But TB held his ground. And not out of misplaced machismo. His resolve once cost him 6 months of prison time after refusing to testify against his comrades. Terry Bisson showed up where it mattered most, even when he knew the plan was doomed.”Joey
“Like a few other folks at PM Press I have been thinking about memories of Terry today. And, in doing so I wanted to share a few sentences about the time he and I went to a motorcycle show. After discussing motorcycles at various book events about ten years ago we decided to meet up at the Clubman’s classic British bike show in San Jose. It was a big annual event held at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds featuring one building filled with vintage British motorcycles, another with other classic European and Japanese bikes, and a third large hall with flat-track racing going on inside. Before meeting up Terry and I made our expectations clear that to fully experience the event several hours in attendance would be required. We met up early on that warm California day, admired some of the motorcycles parked out front in the lot, and made our way into the exhibit hall. At first we were almost giddy, excitedly pointing out certain makes and models contained in row after row of glistening well-maintained and lovingly restored bikes. I remember we eventually fell silent. Not in an awkward “we have nothing more to say” type way, but more of a calmed mindset, just appreciating the various machines in our own way and making the occasional comment to one another. After a couple hours we took a break and sat outside on a bench to drink a beer and so that Terry could enjoy some tobacco products. Relaxing we spoke about beer, some of the bikes we saw that day, our favorite booze and the like. Nothing major or even too deep in our conversation that day. And, that is precisely the thing that kept coming back to me today while remembering him. Sure, he was a talented writer, a skilled editor, and a solid comrade. But the fact that he was a down-to-earth “regular guy” is what made him a true pleasure to be around. He will be missed for all of the above, but the final trait is the one which I will remember most.”Dan
“TB – as he referred to himself – always had a way with words. His own, and everyone else’s he worked with. And an enviable ability to create and sculpt those words into something considerably more immense than the sum of their phrases and sentences.
As an anarchist, I’ve always been opposed – politically, theoretically, and practically – to the ‘great man’ theory of history (so eminently demolished by Tolstoy in ‘War and Peace’ – and I never did discover whether TB, a huge lover of literature, was a fan of that one, or not). Yet TB was the walking, wisecracking, demonstrable exception that ultimately proved said maxim, in his own inimitable and utterly unique way.
And his way was to make everything around him shine. As a wordsmith, an editor, and a committed cultural and political worker, he embodied empathy, solidarity, and collectivity.
One of the finest compliments he ever paid me latterly – in typical understated drawl – was that the Outspoken Author series was one of my better ideas. It may have been, but it was TB that grabbed it, ran with it, and fashioned it – through hard work, patience, and his own brand of genius. From the editing, through the copy-writing and the interviews, it is indelibly TB. All we wanted to do was give him free rein, and hang on for the journey.
But it was the words, always the words. One of my fondest memories of TB was sitting in the audience for an early Outspoken Authors panel, moderated by TB – of course! – with Kim Stanley Robinson and Gary Phillips. To experience the three of them, riffing on the inherent radical politics of the scientific method of inquiry, to the revolutionary traditions in Black pulp literature, and touching on most everything in between, was a pleasure, an education, and an inspirational call to….well, a call to carry on. To carry on doing the work. That words, and thusly ideas, do matter. And can, and do, make a difference.
As an editor, TB always insisted, pretty much, that everything could, and should be immeasurably improved by cutting it in half. So, I’ll leave it at that. For now.
Thanks TB — friend, comrade, writer, editor, revolutionary (and husband, dad and granddad).”Ramsey