Seventeen years have passed since the “Cochrane Saloon” emerged from an American University adult-education writing course taught by short-story author Shirley Cochrane. But three original members, plus six latecomers and the group’s 71-year-old namesake, still meet nearly every Monday night to discuss works-in-progress. Members of this long-standing group of professionals—federal employees and psychotherapists among them—have placed their work in such magazines as the Atlantic Monthly, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and Bogg. They produce their own anthologies as well: Truths & Half Truths: Memoirs and Fiction by Thirteen Washington Writers (Washington Expatriates Press) is the Saloon’s third collaboration since 1982.
Cochrane says she prefers “a lot of good fellowship and no animosity” when critiquing student work, and the Saloonists practice this philosophy as well. “We are a constructive support group. There is no temper flaring in terms of criticism; that would be destructive,” says Richard Lampl, an aviation-newsletter editor who wrote Truths’ “Frankly, Charleston,” a wildly engaging piece about mannerly Yankee businessmen clashing with charming Southern strippers.
Each of Truths’ writers is a competent storyteller, yet the fictionalized memoirs enjoy a more sustained potency than the short fiction. Former Capitol Hill reporter and civil rights lobbyist Marvin Caplan imagines the sport of wrestling in spiritual terms in his moving personal account, “Wrestlers: Fathers and Sons.” Jim Robinson, who died in 1982 but gave the Saloon verbal permission to publish two sketches, contributes the subtle, riveting “Hammer” and “Letter to My Old Man,” conciliatory notes to a father he couldn’t understand until it was too late.
“We are always on the lookout for what is being published today,” says Cochrane, who presently teaches at Georgetown’s continuing education school and at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. “My students give me feedback, and everyone in the Saloon reads things like the New Yorker and the Best American Short Stories anthologies.” The Saloonists may be men and women of a certain age—they range from forty- to ninetysomething—but Truths exhibits their talent for highly contemporary prose.—Sean Daly
Selected authors read from Truths at Politics & Prose, May 16 at 7 p.m.