UPDATE: Critz will do a reading on the UALR campus on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011 at 1:00 p.m. in Ross Hall 123. A book signing will follow. This event is free and open to the public.
Author Tanner Critz began a literal and figurative journey during his senior year at UALR in 1995. First, however, he had to convince his professor that spending six months hiking the Appalachian Trail qualified as research.
“I was in the Donaghey Scholars Program which requires a senior thesis for graduation,” said Critz, who graduated with a degree in anthropology in 1996. “As I was planning my hike which would take time out of school, I proposed that based on some alternative, post-modern theories about anthropology, I could write about the trail as an insider, describing the makeshift community that developed there in an ethnography made of short stories.”
Before approaching his professor about the project, Critz spent two years researching the 2,000-plus mile-long trail and saving money for food and equipment. Although the project would take Critz out of college for an entire semester, his professor approved. On March 15, 1995, Critz began his thesis on top of Springer Mountain in Georgia, which would lead to his book, End to Ending: An Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker’s Story.
“Hiking the trail was an all-encompassing and singular experience,” said Critz.
A “thru-hiker” is a person who hikes a long-distance trail from end to end.
In his book, Critz describes the awe that thru-hikers often inspire in people they cross during their mammoth journeys:
“Can I take your picture? A thru-hiker.” I looked at the father with weary confusion. Everyone I knew was a thru-hiker. I was just the one who had gotten himself caught. Behind the parents a little girl climbed unsteadily onto the rocks.
“Honey,” said the father, bending over the girl to speak softly, “this man is hiking 2,000 miles. How far have you gone so far?” He looked up at me grinning. I looked down into the child’s eyes, and they seemed very real, like the wind and the mountains. She was smiling a little and seeing me and the rocks and the sky without any filter or assumption.
“A couple hundred,” I said, eyes still locked with the child. She must be one of us, I thought. She’s really here, not back with the car or the house or the T.V. or what someone said a few minutes ago. I could feel her speak before the word came.
“Why?” she asked frankly. For the father I might have tried to think of something clever. He would have laughed, or there would have been ooh’s and hmm’s, and the family would have left with their experience complete and compartmentalized, but for the girl, I answered truthfully.
“I don’t know.”
Critz completed a manuscript of his experiences on the Appalachian Trail about a year later and sent it off to several publishers, all of whom declined. “Life moved on and it was another five years before I started to pick at it again, doing a major rewrite and then putting it online at a place where friends and family could pay for a one-off printing,” he said.
Eighteen months passed. Critz found himself in a discussion with a North Little Rock-based publisher, Paula Morell of the Temenos Publishing Company. She asked that he sent her a copy of his manuscript (Morell is also the founder of Tales From the South, a weekly radio show on KUAR, UALR Public Radio).
“After she agreed they would like to publish it, she made recommendations for some major rewrites,” said Critz. “Once that was done, it went through editors who had additional suggestions and corrections. The process took about 14 months from acceptance of the manuscript to publishing.”
Last December, Temenos released End to Ending, which local author Kevin Brockmeier (The Brief History of the Dead, The View From the Seventh Layer) described as “lyrical, joyful, and evocative.”
“Many of the pivotal experiences of the hike are included in the book,” said Critz, who took on the trail name “Wayah” which means “wolf” in Cherokee during the half-year hike. “I’ve begun adding additional stories to the book’s website that didn’t fit in the context of the published version.”
Next month, Critz will be one of the featured writers at the Arkansas Literary Festival. For aspiring authors, he advised, “Don’t burden your mind with success or money. Find out what you’re good at, pursue what you love, be good to as many people as you can, and everything else will fall into place.”
In addition to being an author, Critz owns and is the head instructor of Unity Martial Arts in Little Rock.