Tony Woodlief walked into the office of the Michigan Review in the fall of 1990 and said that he wanted to write for us. I was the editor of the paper–a right-of-center publication at the University of Michigan–and was happy to have a new contributor, to say nothing of a grad-student contributor. Tony was like an actual grown up. He was married and stuff.
His name went on the masthead of the October issue. His first article appeared in November: a review of The Politics of Rich and Poor by Kevin Phillips. It was the best article we published that month. It was even better than our cover story, an exposé on why dorm food is so bad. (As earnest young conservo-libertarians, we blamed it on a lack of competition and called for market reforms in cafeteria operations.)
Tony wrote a few more articles but never spent much time around the office. He had more important things to do than grumble about the venality of student government or debate the merits of Nirvana’s new album. My staff did a lot of both.
We eventually lost track of each other. I graduated. He earned his doctorate. We reconnected years later. It turned out that we lived only a few miles away from each other, in Prince William County, Va. I started to read his excellent blog, Sand in the Gears. Our wives and kids met. Back in Ann Arbor, we were colleagues. Now we were friends.
Then he moved. I was sorry to see him go, but at least we get together on occasion when he’s in D.C. A few months ago, we had dinner at Wok and Roll, a Chinese restaurant that occupies the building where John Wilkes Booth plotted his conspiracy.
Now Tony has written an outstanding book, Somewhere More Holy: A Bewildered Father, Stumbling Husband, Reluctant Handyman, and Prodigal Son. And I’m not just saying that. It’s a remarkable meditation on family life–funny and profound at the same time. It’s also confessional. I learned secrets about Tony that I never would have guessed. I’ve been a fan of his blogging for years; I hope there are more books in his future. Today, he’s my podcast victim.
Next week’s podcast: Benjamin Balint on the history of Commentary magazine.