Writer's lives are filled with characters. Not just people but people who shape our landscape, our plot, our narrative in ways that intertwine the personal, the political and the professional in a very particular way. When I think about the characters I put on the page, they are as real to me as people I speak to every day and sometimes more so.
Kathi was one of those characters in my life. I can't be sure when exactly we first met although I think it may have been at the annual and elephantine book expo formerly known as the American Booksellers Association. I went each year with my publisher, Nancy Bereano, and help her staff her Firebrand Books booth. There were still lots of feminist publishers and independent bookstores and often this was the one time we saw each other face to face all year. And I met other authors, some living on the independent margins as I was, others slickly packaged and handled.
I believe I met Kathi first at some big book thing like that where she and the Rock Bottom Remainders played hot rock and roll, exactly what these self-reverential book gatherings need. I was mostly interested in getting a glimpse of Stephen King, my personal icon. But Kathi was unmistakable with her halo of curly hair keeping up the rhythm along with all the instruments. When we actually met maybe a decade later she still looked like a wild haired rock singer...Grace Slick without being scary.
She did many things in the literary world...shepherding visiting writers around town was only one of them. Authors who worked with her always counted Kathi as a friend. And she knew so many it felt like you weren't really an author until you were in her Rolodex. I wasn't her BFF or anything like that. We orbited in the same world of books, we were the same age and we liked each other.
We served on San Francisco’s One City One Book committee for the Public library and she always made the meeting worth it. She loved books and could talk about them and their value to our culture with the same enthusiasm one might expound on a good pasta dish. And if she liked a book she did not easily let it go.
I wrote a blurb for a book she co-edited once and it was fun to get to know her more just through making fun of the incestuous nature of who gets asked to write blurbs. Last summer she invited me (maybe with a nudge from a mutual writer friend) to appear on Sedge Thomson's radio show "West Coast Live" to talk about my new play. I grew up dreaming of being a guest on Johnny Carson's show; but this was even better—serious and lively conversation just like Kathi. And her approving grin at the end of my segment was a welcome reassurance—she knew how anxious we writers can be.
That she's passed away after battling cancer seems outrageously wrong...wrong for those who knew her and for those who now never will. It feels impossible that a publisher would dare push a fledgling author out of the nest without Kathi being there in the cold, scary lit world to point the way.
She was a welcome character on my landscape; part of my literary narrative, woven in like a gleaming thread through a page of handmade paper. She left me with many pages to write and more confidence that they’ll get written.