Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Montana Grad Spotlight: Steven Rinella

I could say my decision to apply to Montana was random, but I prefer to say I was following my instinct. I was Googling various states (Texas, Wyoming, South Carolina) paired with the words “creative writing MFA” and found the purple website with the cartoon grizzly bear. (The website has, sadly, since been updated to a sophisticated aesthetic). A little more research revealed that Montana was an older program (I liked the idea of a writing tradition) and a top program (I like success). The idea of moving West, far away from the South, also appealed.

Yet another motivation was Steven Rinella’s The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine. The book is centered around his year-long quest to hunt and fish for the necessary ingredients to prepare a 3-day, 45-course feast from French master chef Auguste Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire. (It was Montana professor Dee McNamer that put Rinella in touch with the 19th century cookbook). En route Rinella acquires such exotic makings as an antelope's bladder, a stingray, eel, and the smoked ham from a black bear. I read the book and know that this brand of researched quest represented the nonfiction I wanted write. I suppose I knew my career as a lyrical essayist wasn’t going to work. And this was before I’d even heard of the lyrical essay.

I’ve been rereading the book over break and find it just as engaging. No, I don’t care to fish for ling cod in a tippy canoe off a remote Pacific Northwest island. But it’s fun to read about. This time around I realize that the vegetarian girlfriend character in the book is another Montana MFA, Diana Spechler, whose book Who By Fire I have also read. And this time the scenes that take place in Missoula (for instance, gathering pigeon eggs off the Higgins Street Bridge) make my heart ping. I have since seen elk carcasses piled up in the backs of trucks and can personally vouch as to the tastiness of the meat.

Rinella now has a television show on the Travel Channel, which might make him the most successful Montana MFA so far. “The Wild Within” one-ups Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” in that Rinella goes into the wilderness, kills and skins the exotic cuisine he eats with relish.

I didn’t know this when I applied, but while Rinella was at Montana the program didn’t have an official nonfiction program. There was poetry and “prose.” I’m not sure what I have to say about this observation, exactly, other than it leads me to wonder about this recent addition of nonfiction to creative writing programs. I mean, didn’t nonfiction exist all along? What’s the big revelation? But that, I suppose, is best saved for another post.

1 comment:

Trina said...

Mmmm. Scavenging.