Volume One Contributors

writers, photographers, artists

Ken Szymanski


Ken Szymanski lives in Eau Claire’s Third Ward neighborhood, with his wife and two sons. He attempts to live in the present, but the 1980s have always exerted a strong gravitational pull on his writing. He tries to fight it, but it’s no use sometimes.

Content By This Contributor:

LOCAL LIT: ‘Father Time’

Ken Szymanski

My son and I stand in the driveway on this warm May evening – 10 weeks into coronavirus isolation. It’s fully dark, with the thinnest crescent moon rising. Suddenly, he bursts down the sidewalk yelling ...

Long Beds on the Long Road

for Perry, writing lyrics brings him close to his first literary love: poetry

Ken Szymanski, photos by Lee Butterworth

Michael Perry has never sounded more at home in a song. “Long Road to You,” the title track of the new EP by Michael Perry and the Long Beds, plays like ...

Summertime Souvenirs

the gold we find on summer vacation

Ken Szymanski, illustrated by Taylor McCumber

We went searching for gold, and we came home with a rock. It was the classic Wisconsin family road trip – the longest that my family would ever take – to the Badlands of South Dakota. With my parents in the front, my two brothers ...

‘What Would You Get on the Bus For?’

author records personal stories of Civil Rights-era Freedom Riders

Ken Szymanski

Throughout the summer of 1961, groups of volunteers – black and white, young and old, men and women – boarded busses. They were doing the unthinkable: testing a pair of U.S. Supreme Court rulings ...

The Star Wars Guy

Episodes from the life of a lifelong fan who embraced his inner Vader

Ken Szymanski

Episode I - After school one day, a colleague came into my classroom with a question: “You’re the Star Wars Guy, right?”

Chasing Tail Lights

when I was in fifth grade, my brother’s muscle car was the coolest ride in town

Ken Szymanski

At age 17, circa 1981, my brother Don set his sights on a Midnight Blue 1964 Chevelle SS Malibu.

DeLong Middle School Art Fair Highlights Adolescent Creativity

Ken Szymanski, photos by Andrea Paulseth

People wouldn’t normally associate middle schools with community art centers. But why not? They have the space, the supplies, and boundless creative energy. On October 15, DeLong Middle School’s A Knight’s Faire showed how student entrepreneurs, professional artists ...

Lights Out

there is nothing to fear but …

Ken Szymanski

Shhhhh. Listen to this. My story is brief. You’re lucky it’s brief, though, because you’ll be scared out of your mind. If, at some point, you need to toss this magazine aside and run for daylight, there’d be ...

A Huge Chunk of the Audience

house show a reminder that life on the road is a challenge

Ken Szymanski, illustrated by Serena Wagner

Living-room concert? Canadian singer-songwriter? 7 o’clock Sunday night? While that sounded great, I gave my standard answer: I’ll try.

Crunch Time: The Packers – and some of their fans – need a little healing

Ken Szymanski, design by Serena Wagner

An hour before the Packers-Vikings game a couple weeks ago, carrying a load of laundry, I slip and take a loud and nasty fall down our basement stairs. Groaning and crawling around at the bottom, I hold my shoulder, my forearm, my wrist. My wife Sarah comes rushing down in a panic: “Do you think you broke anything?” ...

Turning Sap to Syrup

Katsura expertly whittles experiences down to words

Ken Szymanski

One question. That’s all I’ve got. After reading Jason Splichal’s latest book of poetry, Katsura, there’s just one thing I have to know. Splichal, a legendary Eau Claire South Middle School English teacher and author of five previous books of poetry, agrees to meet in Boyd Park, which will be the unusual location ...

"Did you take the pants?" The school administrator as unsung hero

Ken Szymanski

I sit in the boys locker room at Delong Junior High. It’s 1983. The assistant principal has arrived to investigate a crime. Out of the 50 boys in the room, one is guilty. Someone stole a boy’s pants, and none of us are leaving the locker room until he gets them back. Everyone is nervous and already late for the next class.

Little Shows, Big Entertainment

how local music can compete with the arena rock experience

Ken Szymanski, photos by Luong Huynh

Growing up in the ’80s, it was all about Big. Big hair. Big boom boxes. Big guitar solos at big concerts. Pyrotechnics! Shout-along choruses! Even throughout the ’90s, I liked big venues: Alpine Valley, Target Center, or, later, the rolling hills of Rock Fest. There was something communal about ...


musicians who find success elsewhere still keep their hearts here

Ken Szymanski

When musicians leave the Chippewa Valley, we wish them the best. Really, we do. But if they achieve success by leaving this place, what does that say about those left behind? That you can’t make it in Eau Claire? Justin Vernon’s success proved that this place is not a dead end. You don’t need to escape to a coast or a metropolis ...

This One Is Special

Ken Szymanski

Like an old photograph, the events took time to develop. I was an undergraduate working as an usher at yet another 1990s UW-Eau Claire commencement ceremony. The jobs were standard: Don’t let anyone use this door, keep this aisle clear, don’t let people congregate here, etc. But before the ceremony started, they called an audible. The photographer’s assistant was sick. They asked me to take his place ...

'Writers Read' Event Puts Local Teen Writing in the Open Mic Spotlight

Ken Szymanski

Every month, The Writers Read series graces the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library with monthly readings by established local authors with polished deliveries ... but not this time. This month’s reading (March 9, 7pm) is an open mic for grades ...

One More Song! One More Song!

a part-time wedding DJ considers - and reconsiders - hanging up the microphone

Ken Szymanski

This wedding dance was supposed to end almost an hour ago, but nobody wants to go home. As the DJ, however, I have to wonder how many encores are too many. The bride and groom instructed me to end the evening, back at midnight, with ...

Midwestern Heart

Hildebrand essays explore truth in everyday life

Ken Szymanski, photos by Andrea Paulseth

When asked for an interview via email, John Hildebrand was reluctant. Not because he didn’t want to discuss his new collection of essays, The Heart of Things, but because of family matters. The article’s rapidly-approaching deadline coincided ...

Stop the Ride

what doesn’t kill you makes you queasy

Ken Szymanski, illustrated by Serena Wagner

As the Tilt-A-Whirl is about is about to unleash its madness, the announcer offers this reassurance: “If at any time you want to exit the ride, give the ‘two thumbs down’ signal, and the operator will bring the ride to a stop ...

Building the Song

old tunes find new life with help of basement studio

Ken Szymanski, photos by Andrea Paulseth

If there was one place to hold this interview, it’d be The Cabin – UW-Eau Claire’s smallest but coolest performance room. That’s where Greg Adams, as a college student in the ’90s, hung out and studied during the day ...

A Father, His Son, and a Cruel Summer at Carson Park

Ken Szymanski

Volume One writer Ken Szymanski believes that every sports season is a story, and every player is a character. Over the summer of 2013, he heard about an Eau Claire Express player with an unusual background. The player's host family suggested ...

Behind the Music Articles

you know what they say – those who can’t be in a band ... write about it

Ken Szymanski, illustrated by Luke Benson

With back-to-school season rolling in, allow me a moment to publicly complain about my older brother, Don ...

Twisted Tales

stories explore adolescense, other bizarre happenings

Ken Szymanski, photos by Andrea Paulseth

While reading B.J. Hollars’ new short story collection, Sightings, I imagined a tug-o-war between John Hughes and Ray Bradbury. Hollars’ coming-of-age tales resonate with the heartbreak and humor...

The Sound of Words

Jack Bushnell releases fourth children’s book

Ken Szymanski, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Not many authors can say they learned the art of storytelling from a biology professor, but that’s how it worked for UWEC English professor Jack Bushnell. The biology professor who introduced Bushnell to the rhythm of words happened to be his father.

Painting Forward

Stephen Katrosits readies new work for exhibit

Ken Szymanski, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Quick, look back at the cover of this magazine. I know the guy who painted that – we go way back. During my freshman year at UW-Eau Claire, 1988, Steve Katrosits was my professor for a class called Introduction to the Visual Arts. The heavy use ...

The Factory

former Uniroyal employee completes eighth book on bygone tire plant

Ken Szymanski, photos by Andrea Paulseth

After compiling eight books on the history of the Uniroyal tire factory, Jack Zais isn’t afraid to be blunt about his passion. “Most people would consider it a waste of time,” the former Uniroyal employee said in a recent phone interview ...

Blazing Pages

newest book in mystery series focuses on fire

Ken Szymanski, photos by Andrea Paulseth

What do you do when you find a severed human head in a restaurant lobster tank? If you’re a fan of Jon Loomis’ acclaimed mystery series, you keep turning pages…never knowing what the characters will face next. Recalling that scene from his latest ...

Laarks set to release new album, video

Ken Szymanski, photos by Zach Oliphant

It’s been over two years since local indie band Laarks released An Exaltation Of Laarks. Now with a new CD – Fiat Lux – completely recorded and mixed, the band is shopping for a new label and hoping to have the CD available this summer ...

A State of Flux

exploring Jason Splichal’s fifth book of poetry, Flux

Ken Szymanski, photos by Andrea Paulseth

After self-publishing four books of poetry in seven years, local author and teacher Jason Splichal reached a breaking point. In his last book, 2005’s The Disappeared, he actually killed off his flash-fiction characters as a way to put aside his ...

It's Prime Time

dysfunctional owner in search of functional television

Ken Szymanski, illustrated by Catlin Felix Kramka

“When you watch the game, you can see each blade of grass on the field. You can see the sweat on the player’s faces.” On my mental Wants vs. Needs chart, I know where those things fall.

The New Megafaun

former locals’ new album may be their big break

Ken Szymanski

It’s about to happen. Nationally, Megafaun is on the verge of a breakthrough, gaining a rising tide of critical respect for their musical chops, improvisation, and ever-evolving sound.

Last Call

as the final Harry Potter train leaves the station, not everyone is on board

Ken Szymanski

Harry Potter and I got off on the wrong foot. As a middle school English teacher, I should’ve devoured those books. The series began the year I started teaching middle school, and they were credited with resurging a generation’s interest in reading.

Union Made

Growing up with Schlitz-drinking, Lazy @#$%, Trailer Trash, Redneck Communists

Ken Szymanski, illustrated by Garrett Brunker

After reading an article online about the hullabaloo in Madison, I made a mistake. I clicked the “Read Comments” button. Armed with the courage of anonymity, hundreds blasted union members, teachers in particular, who they viewed as taxpayer parasite

Finding Our Way

Northern Wisconsin adventure tests faith

Ken Szymanski, illustrated by Garrett Brunker

When Conrad reaches for the gas pump, his jacket spreads to reveal a Green Bay Packer sweatshirt. The emblem is bigger than a watermelon. Above it, in lightning font, are these words: You Gotta Believe.

Crime Season

Jon Loomis releases next installment of crime fiction

Ken Szymanski, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Professor Loomis revels in what he jokingly called the “lower rent” world of crime fiction.

BON IVER: Back Tracks

the albums before the album

Ken Szymanski

The albums and songs that led up to For Emma, Forever Ago.

Anywhere from Here

Bon Iver's Justin Vernon is championing the Chippewa Valley with every climbing step.

Ken Szymanski, photos by Drew Kaiser

From his days in local bands Mount Vernon and DeYarmond Edison, Vernon’s roots here run deep ...

Free Fallin'

with serious seasons ahead, one last look at summer foolishness

Ken Szymanski, illustrated by Ryan Carpentier

Autumn brings on the serious temperature drop that makes water lose its fun.


why love or hate the Twin Cities when you can do both?

Ken Szymanski, illustrated by Ryan Carpentier

At Rock Fest a few years back, Sammy Hagar was telling the crowd ...

Festival Fusion

personal invitations go a long way in discovering jazz

Ken Szymanski