Take This Man: A Memoir by Brando Skyhorse
Well, of course, the year I’m mostly out of DC, Brando Skyhorse is the Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Residence at George Washington University. Not that I have any affiliation there now (only a leftover GWU ID from when I took a couple of classes 3.5 decades ago, egads), but I like to imagine that were I wandering around Foggy Bottom, I might just end up sipping chai at the next table, or being next in line at Whole Foods. Not that I would get tooooo creepy, but reading his memoir will make you, too, want to know Skyhorse off the page. Go aural with Bronson Pinchot (yes, that Perfect Strangers–Bronson Pinchot, who narrates with an astonishingly calm, even gentle patience in spite of the unbelievable events) and you, too, will feel like claiming Skyhorse as your new best friend.
This is the sort of memoir that might fall into the ‘you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up’ variety. But, shockingly, Skyhorse’s mother did indeed have a ho-holds-barred imagination with which she constructed an identity for her only son that has taken decades for him to even begin to understand and accept. While the words here belong to Skyhorse, the story’s spotlight is focused on his mother: “My mother, Maria Teresa, a Mexican who wanted to be an American Indian, transformed me into Brando Skyhorse, a full-blooded American Indian brave,” he reveals in the first paragraph.
Born Brando Kelly Ulloa, Skyhorse was 3 when his metamorphosis commenced with the departure of his immigrant Mexican birthfather. “I became the son of Paul Skyhorse Johnson, an American Indian activist incarcerated for armed robbery who my mother met through the mail. She became Running Deer Skyhorse, a full-blooded ‘squaw.'” Skyhorse would grow up in his Mexican grandmother’s home in the then-predominantly Latino LA neighborhood of Echo Park, along with his Filipino American step-grandfather, and always his “mesmerizing” mother. In addition to his birthfather and his alleged father, Maria Teresa would also provide a succession of would-be-fathers with “a chain of boyfriends and five fathers – one new dad about every three years.”
Skyhorse survived a childhood made of “crazy schemes and lies [that] sound[ed] electric and honest.” He would spend decades piecing together his own selfhood, all the while desperate to please his chimerical mother, while hoping to claim at least one father as his own. Amazingly, Skyhorse held on to his sanity to become a Stanford degreed, award-winning writer and editor (the indie press, Skyhorse Publishing, is named after him). His memoir will convince you that he also turned out to be quite the intelligent, feeling-ful, caring human being, as well.
Be warned: reading, even listening, is going to be quite the exercise for your eyes: squinting in horror, opening wide in shock, shutting them in sympathy, crinkling them in guffaws, rolling them in frustration, and – of course – tearing up and spilling forth … then rinse and repeat multiple times. Go already! Lucky DC-folks: You’ve got just enough time before he takes center stage tonight!