Guest Writer Series featuring Justin Hocking

In 2005, Hurricane Ophelia destroyed outer banks and ships off the Carolina Coast as he obsessively watches her swells at Far Rockaway via satellite.

Justin Hocking used to be afraid of the ocean but with inspiration from eyeing a New York surfer aboard a subway, he is now trying to overcome the waves by attempting to surf.

Hocking, who lives in Portland, read and discussed his 2014 memoir “The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld” on Dec. 2 in the William Rolland Gallery of Fine Art.

In the book, Hocking emphasizes his long-time pre-occupation with Herman Melville’s novel “Moby Dick,” where the one open space that he was surprised to connect with was the ocean.

Jacqueline Lyons, who has a doctorate in literature and creative writing, said Hocking went through the same MFA program in creative writing that she did at Colorado State University. She has read Hocking’s book and previously taught its content in English 201: Intro to literary studies.

“The book has received extremely positive reviews and I admire how Hocking’s memoir richly contextualizes personal experience, how it closely engages a classic work of literature and how it is devoted to an artful rendering of experience,” Lyons said in an email interview.

Though he grew up in San Diego, Hocking made the decision to move to New York City after finishing graduate school to try his luck as an author there.

Although he didn’t have many jobs lined up, Hocking said he needed the horizon that he wasn’t finding in the city, which is how the oceanic obsession arose.

According to Hocking, the next chapter titled “The White Death” blends literary criticism with personal writing and poetry. Hocking defined the meaning of the term saying that it is an all-consuming obsession with the novel Moby Dick and the life of Herman Melville.

He called Melville’s language brilliant and Shakespearian, incorporating both prose and alliteration. He said he became obsessed with a book about obsession, talking and thinking about it all the time.

“The book combines the best elements of creative nonfiction—compelling characters, suspenseful and engaging story, rich language and imagery, insightful metaphors and what essayist Scott Russell Sanders calls ‘the spectacle of a single consciousness making sense of a portion of the chaos,’” Lyons said.

In the chapter, “The Stroke”, he said he was plagued by the worry of credit card bills and loneliness while living in the city. However, his problems soon went away when he reached Rockaway Beach in Queens.

In the last chapter titled “All I need is this thermos”, inspired by “The Jerk” starring Steve Martin, Hocking described a robbery incident as he traveled back home to Denver to meet with his step-sister.

When he arrived at midnight, he couldn’t get the key out of the ignition of his rental car. Suddenly, an SUV pulled up behind them and a man with a revolver hijacked the car, taking Hocking’s wallet.

Unfortunately, Hocking’s laptop was in the rental car with the original files of a novel he had been working on for two years, which were not backed up. Hocking’s sole possession after the car hijacking was his thermos.

“We all endure Night Sea Journeys whenever we suffer a major loss or failure or period of despair. I’m always interested in these ideas of survival and endurance and the personal transformation that can unexpectedly manifest during periods of upheaval,” Hocking said in an email interview.

Peggy Johnson, writer and editor for University Relations, said that Hocking was a very personable speaker who seemed to be at ease due to his occupation as a professor at Eastern Oregon University.

“It came through in his conversation that he had enjoyed being in the class earlier in the day and enjoyed his time with the students. He seemed to be someone who enjoys discussing as opposed to lecturing. He seemed to be a collaborative kind of person,” Johnson said.

Although the entirety of the guest writer series was an hour, Hocking said that it took him seven years to write the memoir, with the original being 450 pages and then cut down to 200. Hocking especially took inspiration from Melville’s use of collaging different modes of storytelling and genres.

“I thought he read well and did a great job at stopping right when you wanted him to go on. I was dying to hear the rest of the story about his computer and backpack being stolen. I thought that was a great episode and just left us right there when they were on the ground,” Johnson said.

According to his bio page, Hocking’s book has received several awards including Winner of the 2015 Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction, as well as a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection.

His next book, titled “Gallery” incorporates an earth-bound subterranean theme.

Leina Rayshouny
Staff Writer
Published December 9th, 2015