Vouched on the Road: Louisville with Ashley Farmer

9 Jul

Ashley Farmer is for real one of the kindest people I have ever met. She is also a tight writer, crafting these little fictions that burn really bright. Check this piece in Nano Fiction. Or grab that whole Farm Town packet from Rust Belt Bindery. Add in her love of her Louisville, and BOOM we have the next Vouched on the Road host/writer.

Here Ashley reads one of the Farm Town pieces–

One problem–Ashley is now hanging cool out in California and couldn’t make it back to L-ville for the 4th as we had originally hoped. HEY HEY THAT IS STOPPING NOTHING. She sent me a list of memories/places to visit, and we arranged to chatter via text/phone calls while I was in town. With her spirit hovering and a pocket of good spots, Ashley led me through her beloved city with her pure goodness.

Pre-Visit Mini-Interview with Ashley

1. How long did you live in Louisville?

I lived in the country/suburbs outside Louisville through middle school and high school, in Oldham County, across from a dairy farm. I moved to the city proper for college and, after moving away, came back home to Louisville again. Total? Thirteen or fourteen years.

2. What are your favorite pieces of Louisville? 

The Highlands and Cherokee Park.

Says Louisville Native Hunter S. Thompson: “If I could think of a way to do it right now, I’d head back to Louisville, sit on the porch drinking beer, drive around Cherokee Park for a few nights, and try to sink back as far as I could into the world that did its best to make me. It’s not hard to get tired of interminable palms and poinciana, and I could do at the moment with a single elm tree on a midnight street in the Highlands.”

3. What made you leave Louisville? 

The last time I left Louisville it was for graduate school [at Syracuse].  I’d been back in town for a little over a year.  A swift, sweet hello and farewell.

4. How has Louisville (living there or leaving it) influenced your writing? 

Kentucky shows up in almost everything I write—I love the state in a sizable, unchanging way.  I wasn’t born there but I love that spot in which I grew up, the cornfields across the road from us, the zagging country roads, the lightning bugs in our yard.  I love the city as I knew it in my twenties, with its bright spots and dark ones, too.

When I started writing pieces about farms (for my chapbook Farm Town, and for the larger project from which the chapbook springs), I was considering especially that sprawl of fields and green hills and yards without fences.  It was a process of juxtaposing it against Southern California’s frenetic pace and tremendous freeways (in both the spirit of amazement and homesickness).

In past pieces and in the novel I’m working on right now, I’ve tethered my ideas to the particular yard and woods of my old Kentucky home. I like the constraints in reimagining it (process-wise), and those constraints mirror my experience of living there (i.e. being so close to my family and finding mysteries in familiar rooms/relationships/landscapes).

Some of this affection is rooted in nostalgia, but I don’t think that’s all of it.  I think Louisville is just a solid, fascinating, big-hearted place.

5. If you could live in any city, what would it be and why?

That’s tough to say. I’m in Long Beach, CA right now and it’s this diverse, electric town and I’m very fond of it (and, unlike HST, I’m not yet tired of palm trees).  But I’ve lived in snowy upstate New York, in a city so friendly to writers, and I’ve lived in the high desert with my family.  I’m adaptable, I guess. I could throw my arms around any place.  And I’m good at packing.

6. How’s the literary scene in Louisville? 

Rich. I’m likely leaving out establishments/projects/formidable upstarts, but here are some specifics that come to mind after being away and at a distance:

Publishing-wise, there’s the powerhouse Sarabande Books, who consistently publish interesting, important work.  There’s also Typecast (home of Lumberyard Magazine and publisher of Matt Hart’s Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless).  There are various reading series like InKY and the Kentucky Author Forum.

When I lived there, I had the fortune of studying with writers like Jeffrey Skinner and Paul Griner at the University of Louisville, and there are so many other Louisville and not-far-from-Louisville writers making interesting and diverse work: (to name only a few) Brett Eugene Ralph; Maurice Manning; Wendell Berry; Affrilacian poets Nikky Finney (who won the 2011 National Book Award for poetry) and Frank X. Walker; Ron Whitehead, who organized events like Insomniacathons for bands and writers to perform/read across the city for days. (He once corralled some of us student writers to help hand Hunter S. Thompson the keys to the city for the 25th anniversary of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Thompson’s mother was there, and Johnny Depp—studying for the role and also from Kentucky—and Warren Zevon and David Amram and others. Here is everybody singing.)

Speaking of Thompson: you can find his old house in Louisville.  You can also see where “Daisy” of The Great Gatsby lived (F. Scott Fitzgerald spent time there), but I only know that particular home by walking past it…

7. Describe Louisville in three words.

Proud bourbon kindness.

8. What are you most stoked to show me in Louisville?

Well, if I were to host you properly and not from across the country, I’d see what you were up for:

Do you want to play disc golf in a park to rival all others?  (That would be Cherokee, the one that HST endorses above).

Do you like pizza, ice cream, local beer on a bright street, coffee that gives you muscles, and a perfect little steak so good that you’ll no longer be a vegetarian? (There are so many excellent places to eat and sip in this city, and Kentucky is just southern enough to do this well and in grand celebratory fashion.) (Oh, you should come back for the Derby someday!)

Do you like very good books? (Trick question.)

Do you like ponies and feel lucky about them?

Do you like ghost-y gorgeous architecture and history and interesting piano bars?Stellar bourbons and a view of the Ohio?

Do you use wooden bats in disc golf? (You’re an innovator, so I’m thinking maybe!) If so, do you want to see how they get made?

Do you want to get to know Muhammad Ali?

Any music for you?.

Want to hit the Bourbon Trail before you hit the road for good?

This is what I’m stoked to show you from these 2,102 miles away.  Tell Kentucky that I said hello.  I hope the place is good to you.

Churchill Downs of course! Ashley often mentions this massive horse racing beauty, both the grounds and that BIG thing they host. I tried to beat the 90 degree mark (climbed a bit past 100 both days I was in Louisville) and mosey around the groonds. It is like a castle, man, like those lovely religious collossals. It is evident, without visiting the Derby, without seeing this place in action, I will never grasp the hum this place vibrates.

Cherokee Park! Man, oh, man! I see why this is one of Ashley’s favorite places, along with the hot spot for apparently every other person who likes to put their feet to good use in the area. From the 2.4-mile Scenic Loop, I spotted many rad sights like this, the park looming massive and gorgeous within itself. Also, this place sprawls and offers, for a public park, what seems endless, boundless, paths and fields and yes. Seriously, with less digits in the temperature and more time on my calendar, I would bask in this nature glory for days at a time. (Also, gonna throw this out there–DISC GOLF could totally fit on the sign, map, and heart of this park, plenty of area to toss a disc, only deserves a great course).

After sweating pails at the park, I headed to the Highlands, Ashley’s other top spot. Spotted that purple place, Wick’s Pizza. I bet I had that wuzz is up look on my face. Right away, the bartender and a patron offered there assistance, saying no no you cant eat a medium pizza (snagged a small bacon/pineapple pie), get a local beer (went with the BBC nut brown), and leave those leftovers here in the fridge while you wander around (how lovely an offer!). This place definitely did my belly right, big crust, savory cheese, several hunks of toppings. And that beer, oooooweeeee, that was smooth for a mid-day heat beater.

My most excited moment in the Highlands was my stop at Carmichael’s Bookstore. Cozy, I think yeah, that is a good way to describe it. A lot of books in a small space, yet with levels and a crisp loop (those kinda of lovely bookshelves I crave for my shack whenever I get to have something I can call MY SHACK). And selection, right, that is the key thing. From small press things to big-timers to local writers, this place brought it. Always makes me giddy to see books by folks like Heather Christle, these people who have been carried by the VB tables, have been featured on this site, and read at Vouched Presents readings. My snag here was Hobart 13-Luck , which features five shorts by Ashley (YAY).

Well, I couldn’t leave Kentucky without hitting at least one spot on the Bourbon Trail. So, I hit three. I was heading towards Nashville, so I plinko-ed to the Beam, Heaven Hill, and Maker’s Mark factories. The Beam facility was a little underwhelming in the sense that we didn’t see much and it felt more like going to a museum than being on a guided tour. However, real cool, we got to try a 130 proof Booker’s. Heaven Hill seemed to really balance the museum feeling with some in-depth chatter about the distilling and aging process (thx leader). Oh and their tasting room is sexxxxxxyyyy. Maker’s Mark, my least favorite of the bourbons here, really has it going on tour-wise–startling beautiful property, the only of these three tours to show the factory beyond the aging buildings and gift shop (like vats and bottling area), and the best tour guide of the three (he also had about 45 people as opposed to 12-ish for the other places). The Bourbon Trail is a YES!

Big thxxxxx to Ashley for being a part of this trip, even from afar, doing a totally rad job of showing me around, despite the thousands of miles.

I will leave off with this, another stellar story from Ashley–

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