Mark Pomeroy’s New Novel, “The Tigers of Lents,” Was Inspired by Marshall High School Students

The author took inspiration from his time teaching at the now-shuttered Lents school in 2011.

Mark Pomeroy (John Davenport)

At Bella’s Italian Bakery on Southeast Woodstock Boulevard at 91st Avenue, the espresso machine hums and clicks, and customers come in for treats like mascarpone sweet rolls and chocolate hazelnut coffee cake.

Author Mark Pomeroy doesn’t get out to Lents too often, though he used to work in the neighborhood. This May afternoon, he sits at a corner table and half expects to still be able to see the (now demolished) New Copper Penny nightclub on Foster Road. He’s new to Bella’s—Pomeroy’s usual Lents spot is The Eagle Eye Tavern, which he likes for being “more old school.”

“I love being up here, but it’s extremely different from when the book takes place,” he says. “You see a lot of change, but at the same time, you can go a very short distance and still feel that there’s some edge in certain parts. It’s just a really complex neighborhood.”

Pomeroy, 54, is the author of The Tigers of Lents (University of Iowa Press, 234 pages, $19.95), a new novel that starts in the outer Southeast neighborhood in 2010. It tells the story of the Garrison family: three daughters, a son, a mom often found drinking zinfandel on ice after her shifts at Freddy’s, and a father about to be released from prison. The heart of the story is oldest daughter, Sara, a soccer star at the now shuttered Marshall High School grappling with class issues and a chaotic home life when she is recruited to play for the University of Portland.

That detail is ripped from the life of Pomeroy, who also attended UP for soccer. Pomeroy grew up on the edge of poverty with a single mom on the eastside (“Parmesan cheese came as powder in a can,” he wrote in an essay earlier this year). As a teen, he took the bus across the river to attend Lincoln High School, igniting some of the class issues he delves into in The Tigers of Lents via his characters.

He has taught creative writing at every single Portland public high school at one time or another in the past 20 years as part of Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools program. His previous novel is 2014′s The Brightwood Stillness.

We spoke to Pomeroy about the similarities between himself and Sara, the book’s winding path to publication, and the times when his characters talk back to him.

WW: Why did you choose to set your book in Lents?

Mark Pomeroy: I was the last writer-in-residence at Marshall High School in 2011 right before it closed. Those kids were writing about their neighborhood, their families, the decision to close the school, you know, three decades after I-205 cut the community in half. And just what that felt like, to be chosen for closure. I got close to the kids at a very poignant time.

I found myself, after a few weeks, getting some ideas for a novel when I would sit in the parking lot before class. And that was probably, at that point, maybe my sixth novel that I had written.

So do you have a lot in a drawer that have not been published?

I’ve written about 15 or 16 works of fiction. Mostly novels, a few novellas. Half of those—I’m almost 55, so I can say this without breaking into a sweat at this point—will stay in the drawer, as practice. Maybe three or four of those, I’ll let them kind of simmer and I’ll come back and work on them.

How did you know to come back to The Tigers of Lents?

In 2017, this book was signed by a respected indie press in Portland. It was slated for publication in 2018, but the publisher pulled the plug. I couldn’t look at the novel for about two and a half years after that.

I vividly remember one day I opened my notebook to write, and that morning, Sara the soccer player in The Tigers of Lents somehow just popped into my head. She was standing up and she was kind of going like, “Let’s go! Life’s really tough sometimes, and we get that, but let’s go. Our story matters.”

And so I started writing a few lines about that bizarre, kind of imaginative event, and then went back into the manuscript and realized that there was still life there.

Which character in the Garrison family do you relate to the most?

Probably Sara, just because she has the soccer element. I grew up playing soccer just to be out of the house, but I ended up getting recruited by Clive Charles to play at University of Portland.

Really? How long did you play at UP?

I trained with the team my first year but didn’t officially roster up. I dropped my spot so I could go study in Salzburg, [Austria,] which completely befuddled most of my family and a lot of my friends. But it kind of set me on the path to being a writer.

What can readers expect at your June 18 talk at Powell’s Books? I know you have a lot of history with your interviewer.

Mary [Rechner] is so smart. I’m going to try to stay on my toes. It could be an evening of real drama. She was the director of Writers in the Schools in 2011 when, out of her stable of 25 writers, she chose me for some reason to go to Marshall to teach in three classes. If it weren’t for that decision, I wouldn’t have written the novel.

What is your hope for The Tigers of Lents now that it is out in the world?

I just want to share it. On so many levels, I’m grateful that it’s out there. I do hope it finds some more readers because I think people could connect with the characters in it. I just want to do right by them.

GO: Mark Pomeroy will be in conversation with Mary Rechner at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 800-878-7323, 7 pm Tuesday, June 18. Free.

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