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Sailing Through Cultures: A Literary Voyage with Josiah Hatch, III
Norm Goldman --  BookPleasures.com Norm Goldman -- BookPleasures.com
Montreal, QC
Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Sailing Through Cultures: A Literary Voyage with Josiah Hatch, III

Bookpleasures.com is pleased to welcome as our guest Josiah Hatch, III. Josiah is a multi-faceted author hailing from Savannah, Georgia. 

He boasts an impressive educational journey, having graduated with honors from Princeton, specializing in Ancient Greek and Latin while also immersing himself in music theory. 

A Marshall scholar at Oxford's Pembroke College, he delved into Anglo-Saxon and Middle English studies, complementing his worldly education with a year in Italy exploring Latin literature, history, and art. 

He has worn various hats in his career, ranging from a Smithsonian museum administrator and lawyer with a Georgetown law degree to a professor at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School for International Studies. 

Beyond his professional accomplishments, he is a creative force as a writer and composer, having authored a legal treatise and a notable work titled Forbidden Carols of Christmas, born from his involvement with Denver's Cactus Club and other prestigious literary circles. 

Josiah has recently published A Journey to St. Thomas: Tales for Our Time.

Good day Josiah and thanks for taking part in our interview.

Norm: Your educational background includes studies in Ancient Greek, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, and Middle English. How have these disciplines influenced your writing style and storytelling approach?  


Josiah: Spending many years with ancient and modern languages left me deeply in love with words and the subtlety of meanings they conveyed in poetry, but I also became fascinated by what literature meant to the cultures that shaped it. The experience taught me to appreciate what to love and admire in narrative creativity and also, I hope and believe, what I should recognize about the position of classical literature in our own time. I would like to see our own authors recognize the power of reminiscence of earlier works, in the sense of incorporating overtones and references that give depth to creative products. On the other hand, I also accept Samuel Johnson's caution in his Preface to Shakespeare that: "Some seem to admire indiscriminately whatever has been long preserved, without considering that time has sometimes co-operated with chance; all perhaps are more willing to honour past than present excellence; and the mind contemplates genius through the shades of age, as the eye surveys the sun through artificial opacity. The great contention of criticism is to find the faults of the moderns, and the beauties of the ancients. While an author is yet living, we estimate his powers by his worst performance, and when he is dead, we rate them by his best."

Norm: What inspired you to re-imagine Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales within the unique setting of a vacation cruise during a pandemic?

Josiah: Pilgrimages of the type Chaucer describes are rare in our time. People are more likely to head for a tourist destination, so I thought an ironic modern equivalent of Chaucer's caravan of characters would be a group package tour to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. I was also attracted by the parallels between Chaucer's time and ours – climate change, hunger, pandemics, dissidence by the economically disadvantaged, charges of elitism against those in power. I also greatly admired Chaucer's ability to create a mosaic of his complex age by placing many different class perspectives through the stories of different travelers. Finally, the overall metaphor of the cruise was that we are all in the same boat. 

Norm: Could you elaborate on how you've updated Chaucer's characters to fit the present-day cruise liner setting? What were the challenges in this process?

Josiah: The few Canterbury characters that people were likely to remember led to speculation of what they would be like if they lived now. I thought readers might enjoy a few of those comparisons. However, I began to realize that if I made too much of a game of identifying modern characters with their medieval counterparts, I might shift the focus of readers to Chaucer's time, not ours. Therefore, I tried to  substitute modern occupations and pursuits for those of the Chaucerian characters, and to avoid the kind of imitation that would make the book a roman a clef for the late middle ages, rather than a depiction of our contemporary society, using the type of storytelling pioneered by Chaucer, but not filling the cruise with his characters, not mine. 

Norm: You've used iambic pentameter in your storytelling. How did you find the balance between maintaining the traditional poetic form and giving the tales a modern twist?

Josiah: Nowadays, we tend to look at prose narrative and poetry as mutually exclusive pursuits, each with its own devotees. I wanted to suggest that poetry should not be pigeonholed as either an esoteric calling or a vehicle for jingles. In our time, reading poetry of any kind often requires a reset of mind. I hope to devise a poetic structure that was not looked on as limiting, but as a time-honored way to communicate thoughts as pleasure. I hoped that readers might rediscover the joy of reading aloud to each other, and that the episodic structure might give readers a chance to choose tales that took their fancy. We shall see, but I thought it was worth a try.

Norm: The concept of strangers bonding through storytelling on a confined ship is intriguing. What do you think makes storytelling such a powerful tool for building connections?

Josiah: Our age has become so fractured politically and economically that we talk past each other and regard each other's personal views with automatic skepticism or reflexive hostility. If we are brought by storytelling to realize we are all on a journey together to a common destination, we should be able to make the most of our companions by listening and understanding, if not enjoying, those with different perspectives.  

Norm: The pandemic plays a significant role in your book. How did you approach incorporating such a timely and sensitive topic into your narrative?

Josiah: The pandemic had not yet arrived when I started writing the book, but I was thinking of the irony of an infectious disease being spread more effectively in close quarters by people who were fleeing that very thing. At that time, airplanes and cruise ships were already known hotspots for norovirus infections and other rapidly spreading diseases. When the pandemic arrived, it strengthened the conceit immeasurably and also provided a strong reason that no one could leave the ship at a foreign port. This in turn, strengthened the metaphor of the cruise as a life's journey.

Norm: Given your diverse career path, from museum administrator to lawyer, how have your various experiences shaped your perspective on literature and writing?  

Josiah: I was born into the baby boom and parents who had survived the Great Depression. I grew up in a family that looked to me, as the only son, to restore its losses and better its economic standing in the world; I kept looking for a career that would fulfill my family obligations but allow me time to write. At first, I thought policy or administrative work with the government could serve as a half-way house for a liberal arts major like me. Instead, I found that any career there left no time for creativity except in the service of politics or policy. By the time I moved to the Smithsonian Museum of American History, I was fully of stories, but still with no time to tell them, much less write them. The Smithsonian was full of wonderful characters, who would never be found anywhere else, but the job left little opportunity to follow up on inspiration. Next, when I became a lawyer to fulfill the needs of my growing family, I arrived in that profession at a time when partnerships were changing and the field was highly competitive, inside the firm and out. No time, again, for writing. At the time I did not realize that the panorama of impressions would stay with me, even when I wound up the legal career and began to teach in preparation for retirement. Moving west brought me to a place not only full of new characters, but a different atmosphere than I had known abroad, a term that now seemed to include the East Coast.  

Norm: A blend of languages and cultures seems to be a recurring theme in your life and education. How does this theme manifest in A Journey to St. Thomas?  

Josiah: One of the joys of Horatian or Dickensian satire – by and large gentle approaches to describing one's times without necessarily drawing blood – is that irony and humor can arise from bringing together different cultures of the same nationality. That approach will doubtless not sit well with anyone who willfully interprets the characters' statements in the book as proxies for my own views. Even Horace, in his cosmopolitan time drew comments comparing him to a dangerous bull with hay baffles on his horns, willing to gore his own friends as long as it brought a laugh. In A Journey to St. Thomas, the mingling of a variety of characters from many walks of life in a smallish space provides a constant basis for ironic contrast. Meanwhile, my thoughts were always full of earlier prototypes that suggested angles of description and comparison. 

Norm: A Journey to St. Thomas reflects on the power of tales and stories. Are there any personal experiences or anecdotes that you drew upon to infuse authenticity and depth into your characters' narratives?

Josiah: Yes, of course. Because of ethical considerations, I could not base any story or comments on actual legal adventures involving clients, but all of my other work experience forms what the ancient Romans called a "farrago" – a mish-mash of experience. For many years I steeped like a teabag in D.C. cultural and political happenings, coming into town as Richard Nixon resigned and working as a speechwriter on first on energy matters, then on international trade, then at the National Museum of American History. I learned all about cruise ships by crossing the Atlantic twice on "The France", courtesy of the Marshall Scholarship Program, touring the Adriatic with old friends, and even, in around 1960, chugging around the Caribbean with my parents, who were part of a business convention. I was involved in helping to administer fellowships and grants at the Smithsonian. I was friends with numerous people who worked on Capitol Hill. Private legal practice opened doors to pro bono representation of people struggling with loss of income, as well as to international business transactions, securities fraud, credit risk, monopolization, influence peddling, etc.      

Norm: As we wrap up our interview, where can our readers find out more about you and A Journey to St. Thomas?

Josiah: Thanks very much, Norm.  Fulcrum Publishing has set up a website for the book at https://www.fulcrumbooks.com/journeytostthomas

To Read Norm's Summary of the Interview FOLLOW HERE


 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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Name: Norm Goldman
Title: Book Reviewer
Group: bookpleasures.com
Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
Direct Phone: 514-486-8018
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