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Daniels' memoir takes readers to a 'mythical spot'

March  05, 2013

Dr. Kelly Daniels

At Augustana College, Dr. Kelly Daniels teaches creative writing and has written a book about his life containing more twists and turns than most fiction. In Cloudbreak, California: A Memoir, available from Owl Canyon Press, Dr. Daniels of Rock Island offers a catalog of real-life experiences.

Dr. Daniels was left fatherless in ninth grade when his father, who he calls “a surfer and an outlaw,” was involved in the death of a drug kingpin and fled the country. Dr. Daniels’ uncle was another character, a criminal “who turned bizarre and dangerous,” and died by accidentally lighting himself on fire.

An essay he wrote about his uncle was recognized by none other than John Updike, famed novelist and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, who awarded Dr. Daniels first prize in a story contest. After years of writing fiction for small literary magazines, that was the point when he knew “my personal stories were worth something.”

Writing the book was a journey in itself. “What I learned is that personal tragedy is about as uncommon as air. Whatever obstacles I’ve faced in life are nothing compared to what others have endured,” he said. In order for the book to have value, he realized his own stories would have to be crafted with painstaking care.

“Daniels more or less raised himself, as the son of Christian cultists fallen on hard times in the California desert in the 1970s,” said Jaimy Gordon, winner of the National Book Award for Fiction. “He writes about those years of poverty and lost wandering with a nuanced objectivity that is wise as only very good writers can be wise.”

Most of all, Dr. Daniels hopes his story is thought-provoking. “I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll say the title refers to a place that isn’t actually a place, but a mythical spot.”

Cloudbreak, California: A Memoir is Dr. Daniels’ first book. He is now working on a novel. “I still think of myself more as a fiction writer who happens to have lived an interesting life,” he said.

The cover of the book was created by Kelvin Mason, associate professor of art.

About River Readings: In addition to teaching and writing, Dr. Daniels also organizes the River Readings Series each year at Augustana College, which brings important literary figures to campus to meet with students and present a free reading open to the public.

Fiction writer Donald Ray Pollock will visit campus April 25. Pollock’s second book, The Devil All the Time, has been listed by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the top 10 books of the year. Pollock’s public reading is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Wallenberg Hall inside Denkmann Hall, 3520 7th Ave. A reception and book-signing will be held after the reading.

Sam Schlouch
Senior Communication Director
(309) 794-7833