I was twenty-three and in my final year at The Evergreen State College when I came across The Pugilist at Rest, by Thom Jones. It was a slim book with an intriguing cover that I bought almost as an afterthought. The short stories it contained were some of the most visceral pieces I had ever read. As the title suggested, each story was like a boxer’s punch– precision fury distilled down to a single, sharp blow. In combination, Jones’s collection had a cumulative effect that left me dazed. Beyond the power of the writing was the realization that Jones was a real flesh-and-blood guy who had worked as a janitor just a few miles from where I was living. Up to then, I’d never really thought of writers as actual people. Jones’s proximity abruptly reduced the distance between myself as a reader and the authors that I admired. Like his writing, his nearness was a revelation.