Arts and Culture

Joe Manning is a Louisville native and author whose first book, “Certain Relevant Passages,” has just been released.

The book is part-memoir, part-travelogue. It covers a period in the late 1990s when Manning worked on a cargo ship on the Red Sea.

Manning is a lyrical writer who explores themes of permanence, empathy and our relationship to our most important memories.

I spoke with him recently about the book. Listen to our conversation in the audio player above and read excerpts below.

On what is permanent and not: 

“I struggle with impermanence constantly. I think that’s one of the most gravitationally charged dilemmas we can really think about.

“I closed out a segment about a trip to Yemen with this recollection of this little boy [Walid] that I became friends with. He danced around on deck a lot. He was a real joker and a really nice kid. And I do, I miss him and I miss the sensation of comradeship that was possible in a world in which that’s so difficult to achieve sometimes.

“As I said in the book, the place where I met Walid was just right around the corner from where the U.S.S. Cole was blown up by an al Qaeda cell. And that sort of dichotomy, that friction between the war on terrorism as it has occurred in the intervening years and this completely pedestrian but really significant relationship I developed over the course of the week with a kid that I met meant a lot to me to explore. And it was impermanent — I don’t know where Walid is.”

Stephen Kertis

Joe Manning

On the tragic centerpiece of the book and how he chose to write about it: 

“The fact of the matter is, I went on this trip when I was a young man, at a certain level, in order to have lived experiences that I could use as a writer. I wanted very badly to be a writer, and I knew I had to go out and do some things that were worth writing about. That was my impression as a very young adult. And boy, did I — some things happened on that trip.

“I have struggled with that difficulty for years of talking about significant events — this one in particular is a good example, and not to give it away, it’s a mystery inside this little book. But I have struggled for years with how to digest and re-interpret significant experiences so they can be communicated with others. That’s what we’re trying to do as writers, ultimately.

“So I wanted to take a moment after the longer narrative — which is, I think, emotionally intense — and just sort of meditate on the time and effort it has taken to get there, to be able to talk about this experience.

“In writing about it, that’s the only way I could really get to the bottom of what this experience meant to me.”

Manning reads from “Certain Relevant Passages” on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Carmichael’s Bookstore, 2720 Frankfort Ave.

Stephen George is Executive Editor of Louisville Public Media.