Ron L. Dowell
Oyster River Pages: When did you first learn that language had power? What was that experience like for you?
Ron L. Dowell: I had an inkling that my writing had power when I wrote funding proposals that increased alcohol and other drug funding by L.A. County in what was then known as South Central Los Angeles. Later Compton politicians would try to bully me following newspaper pieces I’d write about their governing incompetence. Years later some are bitter and foolishly believe that threats might somehow diminish the fact that the pen is mightier than the sword.
ORP: What’s the most unexpected place you have seen great art?
RLD: The Artesia Metro Blue Line station in Compton, California has a passenger platform with local student’s essays and poetry embedded into decorative pillars. They wrote their words in 1999. Wayne, a ninth grader, wrote, “I wish that we could walk the streets in day or night without the fear of being abducted or someone doing bodily harm to you.” Seventh grader Katrina wrote a poem:
“Let’s Stop the Violence”
Let’s stop the violence, each in his own way,
Because it keeps coming but it doesn’t have
“What can I do?” you may say, Here are my
Suggestions. Let’s start them today.
Neighbor’s helping each other, with hearts full of
Increasing the peace, just like a dove.
Clean up the city. No more graffiti.
Parents love your children and watch gangs
Teachers and parents forming more special
Activities now and here.
Stop the killings.
Love all human beings.
Let’s work together, help one another.
Increasing the peace right here in Compton.
ORP: Who are your biggest influences?
RLD: Octavia Butler, Flannery O’Connor, Tananarive Due, Lou Matthews, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Ernest Hemingway, Rivers Solomon, Denis Johnson, Richard Lang, Daniel Orozco, George Saunders, Luis J. Rodriguez, Paul Mandelbaum, Claude McKay, James Alan McPherson, Lucille Clifton, June Jordan, Colette Sartor, Laurel Ann Boden, Dana Johnson, Victoria Chang, Reyna Grande, Frederick Douglass...
ORP: What role does research play in your work? How much do you research before or during the creation of your work?
RLD: Earning two Master’s degrees and working 40 years in public service taught me the value of thoroughly knowing and understanding subject matter. That training has proven invaluable in my writing short stories. Research really helps with specific details and helps make stories “ring true.”
ORP: What advice would you give to someone who has never been published?
RLD: That advice would be what I put into practice every day and is the exact same thing that Benjamin Percy wrote in a Poets & Writers Magazine several years back, “Go the Distance.”
In 2008 Ron L. Dowell retired from a career in healthcare and law enforcement public service with Los Angeles County. He holds two Master’s degrees from California State University Long Beach. He joined the Independent Writers of Southern California and PEN Center USA and, in June 2017, he received the UCLA Certificate in Fiction Writing. Ron is working on Stones Refused, a collection of stories that show how people find hope and even joy in lives where basic needs are sometimes hard to meet. He is currently a PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow.
His short story , “Professor Roach,” appears in our current issue.