Robert Arellano Interviews Stanley Crawford, author of The Garlic Testament

Stanley Crawford is an award-winning author whose modern classic Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico received the Western States Book Award and earned him comparisons to Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and Terry Tempest Williams. He is also a New Mexico garlic farmer who recently gained international attention by filing a petition with the US Department of Commerce asking it to review the trade practices of Harmoni International Spice, the American branch of a large Chinese garlic producer and importer. He argues that the corporation is flooding the American market with cheap garlic through an anti-dumping loophole, undercutting small farms like his.

In Crawford’s new book, The Garlic Papers: A Small Garlic Farm In The Age Of Global Vampires, the farmer chronicles his attempt to challenge the corporation and its team of international lawyers. He is featured in the new Netflix series Rotten (season 1, episode 3: “Garlic Breath”), about small farmers fighting corporate agriculture.

A conversation with Crawford on November 13 will invite audience participation and address this year’s SOU campus theme: Uncertainty. It is presented by the Oregon Center for the Arts in partnership with the Office of the Provost, the Division of Humanities and Culture, and the Environmental Studies & Policy Program.

Robert Arellano: Your Western States Book Award-winning Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico was my literary introduction to becoming a landowner and (accidental) micro-farmer in the Rio Grande Valley. (I had the good fortune of living next-door to you one summer, so I read it with expert caveats and knew what I was getting into.) Do you ever have a stranger come up to you at a farmer’s market and thank you (or blame you) for making them “buy the farm”? Any anecdotes? 

Stanley Crawford:  A couple of friends have moved to Dixon because of the first garlic book, or so they claim, notably John Gray, former director of the Autry-SW Museum in LA, former director of the American History section of the Smithsonian. Said he read A Garlic Testament, decided to move here, build a house, etc., well before we even met.  

Robert Arellano: Your early novels have made you a favorite among some prominent post-postmodernists. Derek White calls Travel Notes “a boot-strapping map to your own brain, projecting psychotherapeutic color on the otherwise gray matter of real-world events,” and Ben Marcus is such a fan of Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine that he wrote the afterword to a recent Dalkey Archive reissue. What do you think it is it about your first forays into fiction that resonate so much still? Do you consider yourself an experimentalist, a postmodernist, or something else? 

Stanley Crawford: Why people like books probably has to do with why they got written in the first place. The Log was written in ‘68 in San Francisco, a time of both personal and political turmoil, one of those end-of-the-world times. The nature of the end of the world has changed, but not the sense. So: it’s probably the strange combination of the post-apocalyptic and the sensual that keeps it alive. As for Travel Notes, that came out of an ecstatic time in Greece—and I have no idea why it still now and then appeals. To others. Category? Some of my work is mildly experimental, some quite conventional (the nonfiction, The Canyon). If anything, I consider myself “a stylist,” though what does that say? That I try to write well?

Robert Arellano: At your SOU Campus Theme presentation in Ashland on November 13, we will discuss the (uncertain) territory around your US Department of Commerce petition to review the “dumping” practices of Harmoni International Spice. What is one aspect of this ongoing fight (which several newspapers have dubbed a “global garlic war”) that you’re awaiting news on in November?

Stanley Crawford: There’s a Federal Circuit Court (in DC) hearing on Nov 4 though we don’t expect a decision then–we’re contesting Commerce’s various decisions against us.  The RICO suit against all US defendants has been dropped, and we’re hoping that the Chinese defendants will also soon be released. And, of course, we’re hoping someday, someday Commerce will review Harmoni–which we have been asking for the past 5 years.

Robert Arellano: As you and I conduct this interview for Literary Ashland, it’s been one week since The Garlic Papers was published, and you have already had major signing events as well as garnered reviews from Modern Farmer, several big-city dailies, and the Associated Press. Is the attention this book is getting at all different from what you expected?

Stanley Crawford: It’s always surprising where a book takes and where it doesn’t.  A surprise has been the syndication of the Albuquerque Journal North review to papers all over the country.  Meanwhile an important local arts supplement, Pasatiempo, is now only taking reviews from the New York Times and Washington Post—which haven’t picked up my book. Edible may also take it national. But in all, it’s a crap shoot. I’ve never had a book go national in a big way, though everything is still in print, which is something. With five different publishers…..  A surprise is also how much interest the book has generated with friends—long commentaries on it vs the more usual phrase or two. Not sure what might be resonating here, though the title usually gets a smile. Probably the David and Goliath aspects.  

Robert Arellano: Will you be bringing any garlic to Oregon on November 13?

Stanley Crawford: Yes, will be bringing garlic to Ashland.  

A Conversation with Stanley Crawford

Western States Book Award winner and garlic farmer

Wednesday, November 13, 7pm-8pm

Meese Auditorium (Art Building 101),

corner Siskiyou Boulevard & Ashland Street

Southern Oregon University, Ashland

FREE and open to the public

Robert Arellano is a professor in the Oregon Center for the Arts at SOU. He lived for 7 years in Dixon, New Mexico.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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