There was a period of time when writer Jeff Metcalf raced to write his story because he thought he was dying. While going through treatment for prostate cancer and dealing with the insomnia created by experimental drug treatments, he wrote an essay every week. He also wrote a play about the experience that was performed at Boise Contemporary Theater and also at Cinder Wines. Metcalf returned to Boise from his home in Utah as an artist-in-residence at Surel’s Place. While here, he worked on new writing about survival in both existentialist and absurdist contexts.
According to Ellen Fagg Weist who wrote a profile of Metcalf for the Salt Lake Tribune in 2014, “storyteller” is one word that those who know him use to describe Metcalf, and “fisherman” is the other. When asked to provide photos, he sent several with fish in them, including him holding a fish to his ear like a telephone with the caption “Calling all trout.” This demonstrates another attribute evident in his work: his humor. He actually came to the residency via Stanley, Idaho which is where the first novel he worked on during his time with us, River of No Return, is set; about a successful author who has lost his way in the celebrity of authorship and uses the mountain town to confront the truth of who he has become.
The second body of work Metcalf worked on during his residency is based on his own experience with a traveling carnival. When he was fifteen, he dropped out of school and ran away from home, joining the City of Fun Carnival. What began as an adventure turned into a gritty matter of survival. It is this novel, City of Fun Carnival, that Metcalf read from at Cinder Wines in August, 2017. His workshop in July introduced participants to an exercise he developed called Dangerous Words and a 99-word autobiography. Metcalf has decades of experience as a teacher and is currently a professor of English at the University of Utah, and has been since 2002.