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DOUG ANDERSON, winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Prize for his poetry collection The Moon Reflected Fire, teaches at the University of Connecticut Greater Hartford Campus and lives in Hartford.
KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN
W.W. Norton & Co. – July 13, 2009
An award-winning poet highlights the vibrant history of his generation in a farewell to Vietnam, the chaotic sixties, and their long aftermath.
Doug Anderson’s education in American manhood began in the pre–civil rights South, around the kitchen sink. There he listened as his uncles told war stories in between drafts of Wild Turkey and drags on their cigarettes. Anderson thought he had come to understand something about heroism and his country. At twenty-three years old, those childhood tales of postwar patriotism disintegrated in the maelstrom that was Vietnam. A combat medic, Anderson confronted a haunting reality that drove him to the brink of madness.
He made it home but remained deeply troubled, unable to reconcile his past with a United States now populated by militant protestors on one hand and people who ignored and denied what they saw on their televisions on the other. In response, Anderson plunged headlong into the sixties. He returned to the University of Arizona, where he’d studied music before the war, and pursued acting. He soon found he could “go to a demonstration, get stoned, drunk, blasted, stay out all night, show up the next day for rehearsals, quickly memorize lines and blocking, have more than one sexual relationship, and still function.” Anderson’s immersion in sex, drugs, and alcohol brought him to the edge of a full breakdown, but he gradually found his equilibrium through writing, the one outlet that enabled him to explain, and to face, his emotions.
In KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN, Anderson has crafted an unconventional and moving memoir. As he veers deftly between open-hearted confession, darkly absurdist humor, and surreal experiences in war and peace, he reveals a poet’s eye for the weight of small gestures and a playwright’s ear for dialogue. Anderson’s long journey of self-discovery culminates in a return trip to Vietnam in 2000, where he meets with former enemies who are now writers and poets. Moved by the realization that “the last time I saw these people they were trying to kill me,” Anderson confronts the past and calls on a story—this powerful story of struggle and the power of the written word—to rebuild a life.
Praise for KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN
“Moving and sharply observed . . . Anderson draws a line from his hardscrabble childhood and adolescence to a harrowing tour of duty as a Marine Corps medic in Vietnam to the collateral damage of both and a hard-won recovery over a 40-year span. Read it, weep, and understand. This book has my highest recommendation.”—Wally Lamb, author of The Hour I First Believed
“Doug Anderson’s memoir is both a personal account and a historical document—a snapshot of America in turmoil, a journey through the Vietnam War and its aftermath, a portrait of a mind struggling to cope with addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. Intimate, unflinching, and timely, it reminds us how ruinous a war—any war, but especially an unjust war—can be for a society and for a human soul.”—Ellen Litman, author of The Last Chicken in America
“If indeed the past is prologue, then Doug Anderson has written a prologue for our times . . . His poet’s eye and ear make this recollection of his experience all the more vivid and haunting. Yet, it is the startling clarity of Anderson’s moral vision—his hard-earned wisdom—that should make this book required reading for anyone who wants to know what we should do next, and what we should never do again.”—Martín Espada, author of Crucifixion in the Plaza de Armas
“[Anderson’s] beautifully told story is one of redemption…“—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“The descriptions of the experience of participating in the Vietnam War, of men fighting a war they don’t believe in, transgressing their own morality to stay alive, resonate now just as they did then.“—The Boston Globe