(Updated September 4, 2018)
In Southern Indiana, from whence I come, the name is pronounced “Rose,” an Americanization of the original German. My ancestor Wendelin Roos arrived with his family from Kuppenheim, Germany, in Mariah Hill, Indiana, in 1846, escaping hard times in Germany and looking for a better life in America. Sadly, he and his wife and their daughter Thecla died in 1852, cause as yet unknown. It must have been a very difficult year for their 15-year-old son, Peter Paul Roos, my great-great grandfather. But Peter set up a blacksmith business in that German speaking village, and he must have been fairly successful. He died in 1918 at 81, and his tombstone is one of the largest in the Mariah Hill cemetery.
My father, Jim Roos, was the first in the family to get a college degree. He coached football, basketball, and baseball at Tell City and Washington high schools, before becoming a principal at Ireland and Rockport. Then he joined my uncle Guy Ramsey in real estate development in 1964.
I was born in 1952 and grew up in a number of small towns as dad changed jobs and careers every few years: Tell City, Connersville, Cannelton, Tell City again, Washington, Ireland, Rockport, and Tell City a third time, where I finished junior and senior high school and played sports.
As a naive and romantic teen, I thought I’d like to be an astronaut, so when the Air Force Academy recruited me to play basketball (whoopee!), I thought I’d found the best way to reach the stars. Well, I lasted all of three months at USAFA, and I have mixed feelings about that. I’m glad I went but equally glad I left. On the upside, I found out more about myself in those three months of basic training than I ever could have learned anywhere else.
It was intense and exhilarating. I was doing fine, holding my own. But when classes began, I couldn’t keep myself from thinking that this was not my idea of a college education. It was like being force-fed on a conveyor belt. And my heart was not into bombing people in Southeast Asia. I was never a supporter of the Vietnam War–something I realized I should have considered before putting on Air Force blue.
Don’t get me wrong. I have tremendous respect and gratitude for those who serve us in the military. And now my terrific stepson, Duck Yim, is a fighter pilot in the USAF serving in Korea, so I guess some balance has been restored.
When I left the Academy, I transferred to the University of Evansville, where I completed the self-discovery begun at USAFA with a magical semester in England at Harlaxton Manor. I read Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, and Blake there and, under the heavy influence of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, began writing songs and poetry and fiction and became an English major.
After graduating from UE in ’74, I got a masters degree in English from Miami, Ohio, and was lucky enough to get a job at Raymond Walters General and Technical College, a branch campus of the University of Cincinnati, where I taught literature, writing, and journalism for 39 years. I served as Department Chair for seven years in 1980s, eventually achieved promotion to Full Professor and retired in 2015 Emeritus Professor of English.
I loved teaching and leading study abroad programs back to Harlaxton, but my first love has always been writing, and the heavy teaching load of a two-year college didn’t allow a whole lot of time for creative projects. I did manage some on the sly, however, as you’ll see represented here.
Since 1972, I’ve written a lot of songs (over 400 by last count), recording them at home on my own terms, underground (sometimes literally). I’ve put together three self-published albums: Kangaroo (1986), Songs From the Flood Wall (1990), and Begin 2 (2010), all presented here.
It took me till sometime around 1979 before I wrote a song I felt was worthy enough to send out into the world. Then it took even longer to feel comfortable in my voice. Kangaroo was a breakthrough, the first time I felt I’d written the words I wanted to write, came up with some decent arrangements that I could record with semi-pro equipment, and was able to get the feelings across vocally.
I’ll be posting new songs here as they spring up, and you can decide what you think they’re worth. I do other kinds of writing too and, as I get time, I’ll try to post some of that here as well.
My first book, One Small Town, One Crazy Coach, was published in 2013 by Indiana University Press. It’s a true story of the magical run of the 1963 Ireland Spuds in the Indiana high school basketball tournament. I wrote it as creative non-fiction, meant to feel more like a novel than a history book. I wanted the characters to come alive off the page. People who’ve read it tell me they like it a lot. It was a labor of love. It’s not a memoir, not about me at all, but about an amazing group of people I came to love. I don’t think you’ll ever see stories like this happen in America again. It’s about a lost time, not just in Indiana high school basketball but in small town America.
My second book, Reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, has just been finished. A 400-page glossary and commentary for the novel, I was asked to co-author it with the late Robert W. Lewis as part of a series on Hemingway by Kent State University Press. When Lewis died in 2013, the manuscript was unfinished. Series Editor Mark Cirino asked me to take on completing the book, and it became a full-time three-year project, by far the biggest, most challenging undertaking I’ve ever attempted. It is currently scheduled for publication in Spring 2019. I wrote more than there was space to include in the book, so you will find included here the Hemingway Blog, which has photos and appendices that are not in the book itself.
Now that I’ve finished the Hemingway project, I’ve promised myself six months devoted to music. I have a sizable backlog of songs to record. But after that, I have a number of other book-length projects planned, including a novel and a book on Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Hopefully, I have enough years left in me to get them done.
Come back often for updates and please post comments. I’d very much enjoy hearing what you think.