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Alec Wilkinson

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Alec Wilkinson is a writer, interviewer, essayist and has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1980; and, he was a police officer for the Wellfleet Police Department.   As a writer, Alec Wilkinson has been the “recipient of a Lyndhurst Prize, a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and a Guggenheim fellowship.”  According to Jonathan A. Smith (an Amazon reader/reviewer), “Alec Wilkinson was given the dubious nickname of "Crash" while he served on the Wellfleet Police force. You'll have to read the book to try and figure that one out! What I can tell you is that Midnights is one of the most amusing true stories I have ever read. It's like a real-life Mayberry.. Barney Fife and all! Originally published in 1982, Wilkinson describes his personal experiences as a small town cop on Cape Cod. Fresh out of college with a music degree, he was looking for work in the summer of '75. Wilkinson gave law enforcement a try. So what if he had no police training! As you will read, it was one bizarre summer and off-season that followed. Memorable too. And Wilkinson candidly recounts his year with the men in blue, often with sidesplitting humor!”

According to the book description of The Happiest Man in the World: An Account of the Life of Poppa Neutrino, “Over the last few years, Wilkinson (Mr. Apology and Other Essays) has been spending quite a bit of time in the company of "Poppa Neutrino," a homeless man who's performed as a street musician in New Orleans and New York and traveled across the Atlantic in a homemade raft. So "lavish and prodigal" is Neutrino's history that his barroom encounters with Kerouac and Ginsberg at the height of the beat era are dispensed with in a few sentences—after all, by that time, he'd already been crisscrossing the country for several years himself. In Wilkinson's company, Neutrino spends time in Arizona trying to persuade football coaches to use a passing play he's developed that could conceivably revolutionize the offensive game, winding up on a Navajo reservation where he volunteers with a high school team. Then it's off to Mexico, where he puts the finishing touches on one more raft, which he hopes to sail down the coast to South America and then across the Pacific. For the most part, Wilkinson simply observes, acting as our conduit to this abrasively compelling personality. But that's like saying Boswell was simply observing Johnson: the portrait of Neutrino that emerges from these encounters and anecdotes is a truly captivating story.”

Publisher’s Weekly said of Mr. Apology and Other Essays, “This collection of essays and vignettes draws upon more than 20 years' worth of writing, primarily for the New Yorker. The magazine's profile writers tend to concentrate on a certain type, and quintessential Wilkinson involves tagging along as a creative personality operates at the fringes of his or her "art world," as in "Mr. Apology," in which a the curator of an apology hotline becomes caught up in one caller's frenetic murder confession. In the book's first section, we encounter the man who does Elmore Leonard's research; a photographer who specializes in taking pictures of "secret" cars before they are brought to market; and a group of urban gymnasts who perform in a vacant lot in the South Bronx. Even the most famous subjects, like Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, maintain some level of obscurity; the profile of rock legend Paul Simon is mostly about the near solitude in which he toils at his craft. The middle section is more personal, about raising a child who may have Asperger's syndrome and about Wilkinson's relationship with William Maxwell (more or less duplicating his previous book, My Mentor). The last five essays, including the title piece, end the volume on a down note, but among them a chilling 45-page portrait of John Wayne Gacy is among the author's best work. It crystallizes three aspects of Wilkinson's talent displayed throughout this collection: vivid descriptions of the settings in which he conducts his interviews, keen psychological insight and an intuitive sense of when to step back and let his subjects speak for themselves.”

One reader of Moonshine: A Life in Pursuit of White Liquor said, “I grew up not far from Ahoskie, NC, one of the towns author Alec Wilkinson visits in his book. I was astonished at the accuracy of his portrayal of the people and way of life in rural eastern North Carolina. Wilkinson makes no judgments and draws no conclusions. He simply writes a wonderfully detailed and honest portrait of these people and the politics & life of the moonshiners and revenuers of the swamplands. In the past few years this rural way of life has quickly vanished - pressed from the east by the growth of the tourist industry and overdevelopment of the Outer Banks, and from the west by the rapid growth of the Research Triangle. Moonshine has been replaced by homegrown marijuana. Most small farmers have been bought out by corporate farms and the small towns have become bedroom communities for larger metro areas, with people in Gates and Northampton counties working as far away as Quantico and Williamsburg, VA. I've loaned out my copy of "Moonshine" so many times it is falling apart, but I've never found another book that so accurately describes the world I grew up in. For my transplanted Yankee friends here in the Triangle it has been a great introduction to the rural South. The first Wilkinson book I read was "Midnights", his description of a summer spent as the night patrolman in a small coastal town in Massachusetts. I was struck by his powers of description, and the honest effort of researching his subject by spending many long hours on the job. It is also a fine book. For anyone interested in a slice of life, or just great writing, I'd recommend this book without hesitation.”

Library Journal said of Riverkeeper, “Wilkinson has established himself as one of our most acute chroniclers of those who have slipped through the cracks of modern society. In his last three books he has moved from moonshiners and those who pursue them ( Moonshine , LJ 8/85) to Florida sugar cane laborers ( Big Sugar , LJ 9/1/89) to this work on people who draw their livelihoods from the water. In three vignettes, he portrays Portuguese-American fishermen off Cape Cod, a "riverkeeper" who patrols the Hudson, and the Tlingit Indians of Alaska. Clear of ear and sharp of eye, Wilkinson describes their lives with literate simplicity and, while he abandons the muckraking of Big Sugar , some familiar devil figures (Exxon and the 19th-century white man) do not emerge unscathed.”

Midnights: A Year With the Wellfleet Police (Hungry Mind Find)
Alec Wilkinson  More Info

The Happiest Man in the World: An Account of the Life of Poppa Neutrino
Alec Wilkinson  More Info

Mr. Apology and Other Essays
Alec Wilkinson  More Info

My Mentor: A Young Writer's Friendship with William Maxwell
Alec Wilkinson  More Info
Violent Act
Alec Wilkinson  More Info
Moonshine: A Life in Pursuit of White Liquor
Alec Wilkinson  More Info
Alec Wilkinson  More Info
Big Sugar Seasons in The Cane Fields of Florida
Alec Wilkinson  More Info

About the Wellfleet Police Department

According to the Chief of Police of the Wellfleet Police Department, “The primary goal and mission of the Wellfleet Police Department is to serve and protect the citizens of the community. To the extent practical the department will incorporate modern state of the art technical and management techniques.

The demographics of our town is evolving. Since coming to my position in 1990 I’ve watched Wellfleet –and the rest of Cape Cod– change into a major retirement area. With the increase in the age of our population comes the need for additional services, mostly related to maintaining the quality of life and ensuring the comfort and well being of our citizens.

The number of people in town jumps from around 3,000 during the winter months to 20,000 residents and visitors in the summer. My department strives to keep people safe while permitting them the freedom to enjoy themselves as they wish. It is the department's goal to meet the needs of the community in the most efficient way possible. Thus, while performing the services asked of us members of my department must be mindful of Wellfleet's financial concerns.”

The Library Journal said of My Mentor: A Young Writer's Friendship with William Maxwell, “In elegant and straightforward prose, Wilkinson (Midnights) assembles a portrait of William Maxwell, a writer and one of the last century's greatest editors of short fiction, best known for his work at The New Yorker. Maxwell was Wilkinson's writing mentor from the time he decided to become a writer until the end of Maxwell's life. Tracing the 25-year relationship between the emerging writer and the well-established literary master, Wilkinson reflects on the nature of his teacher's private, social, and public life. Using an intimate tone, he balances the perceived "flinty" nature and privacy of the enterprising individual against the social and professional decorum of a 20th-century literary/publishing figure's life. In a book that is part biography, part memoir, and part essay, Wilkinson sheds much light on the human capacity for sympathy, a mature relationship to self-interest, and the enterprise of writing. Highly recommended.” said of Violent Act, “When we read about violence, we hunger for explanations that will reassure us that violence is understandable, perhaps preventable. Yet this elegantly written book--about a madman who kills his probation officer then goes on a rampage of carjackings, robberies, and more murders across southern Indiana--offers only facts. As Christopher Lehmann-Haupt writes in the New York Times, "Surprisingly, one of the most powerful effects of A Violent Act is to make you feel how callous to violence we've been made.... By telling an apparently simple story yet not presuming to understand what made it happen, Mr. Wilkinson has restored the mystery and terror of violence to their true and properly overwhelming scales." This is true crime as an accomplished nonfiction writer tells it (portions of the book were first published in The New Yorker): in a soft tone of voice, with silences in which the pain and horror can be keenly felt.”

One reader of Big Sugar: Seasons in the Canefields of Florida said, “An extremely realistic portrait of the area that I was born in to and spent the first twenty years of my life. This book is so well researched and insightful that I learned many things about the industry that sustained my home town. More importantly though it introduces the reader to the poor immigrant workers that slave away to produce the sugar that most give no thought. If you would like to be immersed in a world that you know nothing about and learn of a culture, while American, is as different as you may find this book will entertain and educate you.”

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