Young adult novelist, poet, former professor, and PEN award winner Ron Koertge graced eager listeners with a reading of his new book “Sex World” at Vroman’s Bookstore on September 16.
Before becoming an award-winning novelist, Koertge was a professor at Pasadena City College. He began his working at the college in 1965 and has taught just about everything that the English department had to offer. From English 400 to Shakespeare, Koertge taught it all, and taught it well according to the Dean of Humanities and the School of Social Sciences Amy Ulmer, who was acting as the Dean of the School of English while Koertge was still with the school.
“He was a well loved teacher, a good teacher, and he has become an amazing poet,” Ulmer said.
Koertge started writing poetry at a young age and he hasn’t stopped since. Sumac Press published his first book of poetry “The Father Poems” back in 1973, and Koertge hasn’t stopped producing books since. Most of his recent work has been published by Pasadena based Red Hen Press including titles such as “Fever,” “Indigo,” and his most recent book of poetry “The Ogre’s Wife.”
“I love his poetry because it’s accessible,” said Ulmer, “He’s insightful, and he’s funny. He’s very, very funny.”
Koertge’s humor certainly wasn’t lost to the audience at Vroman’s, who erupted with laughter at several points.
“The poetry was easy,” Koertge said, “I had been writing poetry since I was 20 years old and I just had a knack for it.”
However, Koertge is not exclusively a poet. He is also an award-winning writer of young adult novels. His novels are varied in subject matter are usually aimed at teenage boys. He has won two PEN Awards for young adult fiction: one for “Stoner and Spaz,” a book about the relationship between a young man with cerebral palsy and a drugged up girl who met in the back of a movie theater, and another for “Strays,” the tale of a boy in foster care.
Koertge started writing young adult novels after hitting a creative block upon finishing his first novel for adults.
“A friend of mine who wrote young adult fiction said to me, she said, you’re so immature that you should write for 16 year old boys because you’re just like them,” Koertge said. “You’ve got a potty mouth, you won’t settle down, you run around all over the place, you bet on horses, you chase women, it’s ridiculous. So I went across the street to the library and got some young adult books and said, ‘Oh, I could write that.’”
His newest book is a departure from both young adult novels and poetry. “Sex World” is a series of flash fiction that is targeted at an older audience than his usual work.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about “Sex World” is how long it took Koertge to write it. Koertge wrote one story a day for 90 days, which ended up being enough to fill a book with half page long works of fiction.
“I know it is [incredible], and it’s not an ego thing, no one was more surprised than me that I had one idea after another,” he said. “I was just really pleased. I just tried to stay out of the way of whatever god or goddess that was giving me a hand there, and then I never wrote another one.”
Of course, not all of the stories were gold.
“If you’re a potter, you don’t make a beautiful pot every day you know,” Koertge said. “Sometimes you fuck it up and it falls apart.”
Though the good stories seemed to be good enough to receive plenty of praise from critics and authors alike.
One such author is Gene Yang, author of American Born Chinese, who said that Koertge “proves that he’s a master of the form. He teases out lyricism from the most mundane of words, and significance from the most mundane of situations.”
Koertge is also using his talent to help out the next generation of authors by participating as a teacher for a Masters of Fine Arts program called Low Residency.
“We go to Saint Paul, Minnesota twice a year. The students show up for 10 days and it’s really intense, it’s a workshop everyday, a reading everyday, and a seminar everyday,” Koertge said.
Readers interested in Koertge’s other works can find a list of them at his website, where there are also links to purchase many of his previous works. “Sex World” is available now at book stores as well as online retailers.