Memoir serves as an Investigation of Masculinity and Life

October 28, 2022

Stephen West, a visiting assistant professor of English at St. John Fisher University, holds interests in creative writing, visual art, contemporary literary publishing, gender, and masculinity, concepts that intersect in his new memoir, Soft-Boiled, published by Kelson Books this summer.

Stephen West

Soft-Boiled follows West as he shadowed private investigator Frank Streets. Combining detective thrillers with experiences of the responsibilities as husband and father, the book allows for a reflection of art, storytelling, and masculinity in America. Lara Lillibridge, a writer with Hippocampus Magazine, described West’s work as a “reflexive portrait of an artist that asks the questions so many men are afraid to ask.”

Soft-Boiled is a story about addressing an individual’s own privilege in creating art, roles and responsibility, and gender.

Why make this a detective story? While finishing his MFA in creative nonfiction, West traveled to Morgantown, West Virginia where he saw a store advertising for a business, Bob Clay Investigations. Reminded of one of his favorite conceptual artists, Sophie Calle, who had a detective follow her around to document her routine, West was inspired to do the same, but with a twist. West contacted Detective Streets and over the span of 10 years, shadowed him on cases, interviews, and more. West describes Streets as a “total man’s man.” Not believing that he himself is interesting enough to write a memoir about, West weaves the private investigator into the book to dive deeper into the tropes and archetypes of masculinity in comparison to his own.

Against the hook of a detective thriller, West attempts to tackle heterosexuality, whiteness, masculinity, and the anxiety that may come with trying to write while addressing those characteristics. In her review of the book, Lillibridge noted that he is not here to “mansplain to anyone,” but rather “humble” and “on a journey” bringing readers along as he discovers what it means to be a father, husband, writer, and white man.

In his work, there is an emphasis on creating art even if it is not needed or necessary, especially art about white, hetero, cisgender men. West believes that there needs to be more attempts by white, hetero cisgender males that write to address their privilege and the relationship they have to America’s “current state of brokenness.”

“I blush for my need to make art, even when my art is not needed,” he said.

West might not believe that his book completes this job, but he believes for his readers’ sake, that even if it fails, it is still vital to try.

This article was written by Grace Valenti ’24, an English major at St. John Fisher University. Completing a Certificate in Public and Professional Writing, Valenti also serves as the PR Writing intern in the Office of Marketing and Communications.