Thomas Larson: Short & Long Biography Print E-mail

Ars Poetica:

Note to a student: The idea or goal for a memoirist is to find a subject whose grief, loss, trouble, fascination, joy, enchantment or whatever it is that haunts me I can occupy with writing. Many things I write about become interesting to me not because I have "lived" that interest but because I trust that the writing itself is the place in which I can live and develop my interest. It's not just about what happened in the past; it's also about how that past keeps happening in and demanding answers from the present.

As an author/narrator, I'm like an actor taking on a new role. I bring myself to the role and the role takes possession of me, my body, my mind, my emotions, these fingers on keys, every day a live performance, an improvisation that, in turn, is revised via further new writing and revision. Somewhere Montaigne says this: the thing that fascinates me the most is what I think about something I haven't thought through yet. The writing becomes the thinking through. Sounds egotistical but that's the point of memoir and personal essay and where every day my writing practice begins.

Short Bio:

Journalist, book/music critic, and memoirist Thomas Larson is the author of Spirituality and the Writer: A Personal Inquiry, April, 2019, from Swallow Press. He has also written The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease (Hudson Whitman), The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ (Pegasus Press), and The Memoir and the Memoirist: Reading and Writing Personal Narrative (Swallow Press). He is a twenty-year staff writer for the San Diego Reader, a six-year book review editor for River Teeth, and a former music critic for the Santa Fe New Mexican. As a lecturer, Larson has spoken about his book on heart disease, held workshops on "Writing the Memoir" and "The Spiritual Memoir," and given talks on jazz, American composers, and nonfiction narrative. He continues to work privately with authors on their nonfiction manuscripts.

Long Bio:

In 2019 and 2020, Larson continues to write cover stories for the San Diego Reader and opinion pieces for the news site Times of San Diego. He has done essays on the operas of Anthony Davis, on the paradoxes of spiritual writing, and on other literary and musical topics.

Two essays, creative and critical, have been nominated for 2018 Pushcart Prizes: "What I Am Not Yet, I Am" (Assay) and "What It Was My Father Came Here to Get Away From" (River Teeth). The latter piece received "special mention" as a nonfiction nominee to The Pushcart Prize XLIII: 2019.

Among Larson's publications in 2017 and 2018 are a series of works on Leo Tolstoy, Wilfred Owen, St. Augustine, and the spiritual memoir. These appeared in The Truth Seeker, Free Inquiry, Assay, Pacifica Literary Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Berfrois UK. Initiating Larson's writing about religion, spirituality, atheism, the Bible, and other ultimate concerns is an interview he did in late 2013 with NPR's On the Media, called "The Digital Bible."

Larson is a featured on-screen interviewee in H. Paul Moon’s 2017 documentary, Samuel Barber: Absolute Beauty.

When invited, he runs workshops on memoir and lectures on religious autobiography and the spiritual memoir, the music of Samuel Barber, the craft of nonfiction, the musicians of the Titanic, the “social author” in the digital age, and his heart disease. He has presented in major bookstores, libraries, colleges, and writing centers throughout America.

Larson is the author of The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease Hudson Whitman / Excelsior College Press. In 2014, he authored an eight-part blog at Psychology Today, "Mysteries of the Heart." His six-part series, “The Social Author,” is at Guernica. The essays focus on how 21st-century technology is transforming the writer into an author—that is, the private persona of the print-based writer is being overtaken by the public persona of the multimedia author.

His The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” from Pegasus Books, is a hybrid narrative and explores Barber’s Adagio, the Pietá of music, and its enigmatic composer. In its fall 2010 issue, The Missouri Review published the first and second chapters of Saddest Music. In 2011, this piece was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Larson is also the author of The Memoir and the Memoirist: Reading and Writing Personal Narrative, Swallow Press / Ohio University Press, 2007. In its fourth printing, this book is the first of its kind to evaluate the dramatic rise of the memoir in the last twenty years and to explore the craft and purpose of contemporary memoir writing. The Memoir and the Memoirist has been praised in the San Diego Union-Tribune, ForeWord Magazine, The Writer, Ploughshares, and The Bloomsbury Review.

From 2010 to 2017, he taught, gave readings and craft lectures, talked on publishing in the digital age, and worked with thesis and post-thesis graduate students in Ashland University's low-residency MFA Program in Creative Nonfiction.

Beginning June 2014, Larson became the Book Reviews Editor for River Teeth online. Each month the site features a review of a new, typically small-press nonfiction book, often memoir and essay collections. A new occasional feature is "Neglected Nonfiction Classics."

Since 1998, Larson has been a staff writer for the weekly San Diego Reader where he has specialized in narrative nonfiction features and explanatory prose between 2500 and 15,000 words.

For the Reader Larson has written nearly 70 cover stories and several inside features. In 2016, he completed several stories about San Diego innovative artists in music, infographics, performance art, and fine art. Among his Reader pieces are several true-crime murder stories and a feature on a Salvadoran immigrant who died from neglect at a San Diego federal detention center; a profile of conservative political writer, Dinesh D’Souza; the end-of-life tale of Mark Twain’s daughter, Clara Clemens; the story of Marilyn Monroe and "Some Like It Hot," filmed at the Hotel Del Coronado; an article on pit bulls, sympathetic to their point-of-view; an exposé of a Mexican girl sold into sexual slavery in San Diego county; a profile of socialist author Mike Davis; articles on the molecular origin of life, the personal motivation industry, and San Diego’s 2007 subprime mortgage meltdown; and a profile of the renowned psychologist Ken Druck, whose Jenna Druck Foundation offers support for parents who have lost their children.

His essay, "Disenthralled: An End to My Heart Disease," appeared in River Teeth, April 2012.

Larson has led workshops and classes in memoir writing at Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference, Homer, AK; The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, MN; the Ink Spot in San Diego, CA; the Writer's Workshoppe in Port Townsend, WA; the Lancaster Literary Guild, Lancaster, PA; Ghost Ranch in Santa Fe and Abiquiu, NM; the Writers' Center in Bethesda, MD; the Writers' Center in Indianapolis, IN; the Hudson Valley Writers' Center, in Sleepy Hollow, NY; and as a visiting writer at the Red Earth MFA Program in Oklahoma City, OK.

Larson's eBooks at include a primer on narrative style, writers’ openings, and the structuring of emotion in memoir, What Exactly Happened: Four Essays on the Craft of Memoir; a long tribute, On the Poetry of James Wright; a takedown of celebrity autobiography, Awash in Celebrity Authors; and a personal essay, We Are Their Heaven.

In his two-plus decades as a professional writer, Larson has published a new prose piece, on average, every five weeks. He has written about a range of topics, including David Shields, celebrity authors, American poetry, murders and suicides, economics, Charles Ives, San Diego politics, the memoir form, human trafficking, wild boars, classical music and jazz, his marriage & divorce, reading on screens, photography, faked memoirs, the last days of Nathanael West, life after sports, Georgia O'Keeffe, Mozart, U.S.-Mexico border issues, the memoirs of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and Anne Frank.

Larson has been a book reviewer for a variety of publications, including River Teeth, American Book Review, Essay Daily, Contrary Magazine, The Rumpus, Los Angeles Review of Books, and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

In 2008, Larson’s memoir, “Mrs. Wright’s Bookshop,” tied for the Readers Award for the Essay, 2007 - 2008, at New Letters.

The author’s memoir writing includes “Freshman Comp, 1967,” from the Anchor Essay Annual: The Best of 1997, edited by Phillip Lopate, Doubleday. From 1980 to 1982, Larson, as the music critic for the Santa Fe New Mexican, wrote some 125 articles and reviews on opera, classical music, and jazz.

In the past 35 years, Larson's published writing has passed three-quarters of a million words.

He is the father of two sons, Jeremy and Blake. He and his partner, Suzanna Neal, reside in San Diego and, on occasion, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Finally, Larson was born in Neenah, WI, grew up in Middletown, OH, moved to Wausau, WI, and to St. Louis, MO, where he graduated high school. He has an undergraduate degree in music composition from the University of New Mexico (1982) and a master's degree in American literature, specifically left-wing novelists, from the University of California, San Diego (1986).