Introducing our new lineup of reader columnists

The News TribuneFebruary 2, 2014 

Newspaper articles are generally dashed off in haste and clogged with such mind-numbing clichés as “dashed off in haste” and “mind-numbing clichés.” I apologize for that sentence, but it kind of makes my point.

Sometimes, though, we manage to slip in something richer – something fine-focused, fully gestated, funny, maybe even poetic. That’s how we think of the homegrown personal essays we run weekly on our Monday editorial pages.

They’re written by a carefully selected lineup of local essayists, which changes every year. This column is my announcement of the 2014 team of guest writers: Al Bartlett, Emily Ge, Ben Kastenbaum, Casey Jo Silbaugh and Isabel de la Torre. More about them later.

First, I’ll bid farewell to the five columnists who’ve enhanced our Monday pages over the last year.

Melissa Frink of North Tacoma mined her poetry from a place deep inside. One of the most memorable things we printed this year – anywhere in The News Tribune – was her gripping account of her struggle with severe anxiety disorder: “My existence took up too much space; my every utterance was a painful embarrassment.”

Susan Gordon, who lives north of Eatonville, gave us reports on how life is lived in rural Pierce County. Her topics ranged from excoriating copper thieves to glorying in her garden: “I’ve sullied the whites of my nails, stained the cracks and crevasses of my fingertips and roughed up what had been a soft handshake.”

Aidan O’Neill started the year as a Gig Harbor High School senior, then took us to Santa Clara University with him in the fall.

One of his columns nailed the agony of a guy working up his courage to ask one of those dauntingly lovely female creatures to the prom. Last line: “Natalie, w-w-will y-youuu go to promwimme?”

Charmed by the piece – so Aidan says – Natalie did go to the prommwihhim.

Scott Candoo, a Tacoma lawyer, kept me laughing all year by documenting the weird. In August, for example, he explored the mysterious identity of “they,” as in “That’s what they say.” “Where do They live?” he asked. “How often to They take showers? Do They sleep in the nude?”

Nancy Magnusson of Gig Harbor invoked the primal power of family relationships. The last paragraph of her last column struck an elegiac chord that all parents hear in their hearts at some point: “It is not that I want time to stop, that I want my boys to stay children and me to remain in the twilight of my 30s forever, but it would be nice if time could tick by just a little slower.”

We’ll miss these five gifted writers. Now meet their replacements:

• Albert Bartlett of Gig Harbor looks as if he might have just ridden off the range in Wyoming, from whence he moved seven years ago. Now in his early 80s, he spent most of his life farming.

• Emily Ge, 17, is a junior (and bassoonist) at Charles Wright Academy. She describes herself as “incredibly passionate about writing.” It shows in her work.

• Casey Jo Silbaugh is a 39-year-old mom and veteran teacher in the Clover Park School District. She’s decided “to reopen the box I had stored my creative spirit in to make room for teaching and motherhood.”

• Isabel de la Torre offers the international perspective of a Filipina immigrant who stays closely in touch with her native country, where she studied and practiced journalism. She loves the Pacific Northwest. As a columnist, she intends to “celebrate the life and people here.”

• Ben Kastenbaum, a member of the Stadium High School Class of 2008 and a graduate of the University of Puget Sound, remembers living on the streets in Las Vegas as a small boy and being more or less rescued by his adoptive parents, who brought him to Tacoma.

“I have the perspective of being one of those people we pass downtown who have next to nothing and are just trying to survive each day,” he said.

Look for Kastenbaum’s debut Monday. We’re proud to introduce these new voices to our readers.

Email Patrick O’Callahan at patrick.ocallahan@thenewstribune.com.

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