Grover Lewis was eight years old when his father shot his mother eight times and Big Grover also died after being shot in the struggle. Grover went to live with redneck relatives who showed little love or understanding toward a half-blind, strong-willed boy grieving the loss of the only person in his life who loved, encouraged and protected him. At the age of 12, Grover found sanctuary in a public library and began reading some of the great books of the world. “I sometimes skipped school to read,” he said, “because reading was as essential as breathing to me.” In the corps of writers and thinkers, Grover became a general but he always marched—and drank—with the troops. He had an anthropologist’s take on the faces and focus of humanity and his rhythm of language was as distinct as his finger print and as generic as the people of the earth.
Grover worked at newspapers in Texas then the Village Voice, and freelanced for the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the L.A. Weekly; he also wrote for Playboy, New West, Texas Monthly, and Rolling Stone magazines. In March 1978 Grover was writing an article on Larry Flynt and was walking a few steps behind him when racist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin shot Flynt and his lawyer in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where Flynt was on trial for obscenity.
Grover’s creative journalism brought us the morning light of understanding and the symphonic flight of language. Always standing with the “little man” that Harry Truman lobbied for, that Woody Guthrie and Lightnin’ Hopkins sang about, Grover saw the human side of an issue—no matter how obscured by fashionable nonsense or ethical ambiguities—also the starkness and beauty that define the world. His uncommon insight, curiosity—and the courage that remains after confronting death then walking away—taught him to outwit the wardens of the world and the jailers of souls.
On Easter Sunday in 1995, Grover died of lung cancer, without fear or self-pity, at home with a woman who loved and respected him. He understood that truth makes us free because it liberates reason from fear and helps us accept the inevitable with grace. In a world of pain, injustice, misery and absurdity, there always have been and probably always will be people like Grover Lewis, who was as ordinary as he was heroic.
Grover Lewis: The Uncommon Insight and Grace of an Ordinary Man
In April 1995 I was with Grover Lewis and his wife Rae at their apartment in Santa Monica, California. Grover was in the final stage of lung cancer and days away from death. I asked him if there was anything he wanted me to do or anyone he wanted me to contact. He asked me to write two people to let them know he held them in high regard: poet Todd Moore and retired journalist Chuck Schwanitz. Grover had reviewed Moore’s epic poem on John Dillinger in the Los Angeles Times; and Schwanitz had been a close friend and colleague of journalist, novelist and screenwriter Edward Anderson. “Rae can give you their addresses. And I’ve got a message for ol’ Kell [Robertson]. Tell him I love him and to do the best work he can. I’d like to see somebody put out a decent book of his poems. Nobody has and he certainly deserves that.”
I told Grover I would write the two letters and give the message to Kell. I also promised to start a small press and publish a book of Kell Robertson’s poetry. Grover shared the view of many others that Robertson was at least as faithful to hundred proof alcohol (although on principle he didn’t discriminate against weaker brews) as he was to his art and his steel-stringed Martin guitar. Grover sometimes saw more evidence of Kell’s humanity and insight in his work than his life, and their friendship over 25 years knew as much alcohol-accented dissension as civil discourse, but the bond of friendship between them was strong and each had great respect for the other’s work.
My wife and I started Aspermont Press and we pubished A Horse Called Desperation: Selected Poems by Kell Robertson in December 1995. For permission to publish his poems, we paid Kell $100 and shipped him 800 paperback books—half the print run. He was living in a homeless shelter in Santa Fe, New Mexico when our friend Kendall McCook delivered the books to him two days before Christmas. Kell sold the books on the street and in local bars; his favorite bar in Santa Fe was the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Kell claimed to have traded books to working women of the night for their services on at least two occasions. The book is out of print.
In 1999 Aspermont Press published Pianos Around the Cape: Selected Poems by Glenna Luschei. Around 200 paperback books remain.
Aspermont Press helped two other poets to publish their books but didn’t finance the printing or distribute the books.
Now, 22 years after Grover suggested that we create a small press to publish Kell Robertson’s book of poems, Aspermont Press has printed 3,600 books on his life and work—Grover Lewis: The Uncommon Insight and Grace of an Ordinary Man by Rodger Scott, with an Introduction by Rae Lewis.