On Tuesday evening, author Gene Kwak discussed his debut novel — “Go Home, Ricky!” — with a virtual audience, along with fellow author Michael Bible, a University of Mississippi MFA graduate. During the event, hosted by Square Books, the participants offered a wide variety of insights into the craft of novelistic writing and influence, and delved into the specifics of Kwak’s satirical novel: A searing, intimate and witty glimpse into the life of a washed-up semi-professional wrestler.
In spite of “Go Home, Ricky!” being his debut novel, the inclination to write and create has been within Kwak as far back as he can remember. Many hours of his formative years were spent reading at the various public libraries that populated Nebraska, specifically in his home town of Omaha, Nebraska, which also serves as the setting of his novel.
“We can’t help what we write about or what we’re drawn toward,” Kwak said. “This book is my love-letter to Omaha.”
Despite being a reader since childhood, Kwak never believed his future career would ever capitalize on that interest. Being the child of two immigrant parents, the opportunity to vocationally gamble on becoming an author seemed almost otherworldly. It was only upon taking a collegiate literary journalism class that Kwak began to see his life and career trajectory widen.
In addition to writing, another childhood interest of Kwak’s was in the world of professional wrestling, specifically at the height of the WWF — now known as the WWE — fandom in the 1980s and 1990s. Kwak credits being commissioned to write a piece on Randy “Macho Man” Savage as the initial inspiration for his book’s wrestling backdrop.
“There are not many wrestling novels out there,” Kwak said. “I wanted to shine a light on the rich metaphor and fertile dramatic life of the sports genre.”
The main metaphor of a wrestling persona versus a “real life” persona greatly interested Kwak, providing a vital gateway into exploring issues of identity and male-crisis, but in his own unique manner.
“(‘Go Home, Ricky!’) is a great pairing of lyricism and humor,” Bible said.
While incredibly humorous, “Go Home, Ricky!” never looks down upon its subjects, which can largely be attributed to how personal the story truly is to Kwak.
“It’s a story about family… a story about place,” Kwak said.
While only his debut, “Go Home, Ricky!” seems to serve as Kwak finishing his own personal match, following in the footsteps of his literary heroes by combining lifelong interests and insights to craft something truly one-of-a-kind.
“Go Home, Ricky!” is now available in hardcover. Signed bookplate editions are available at Square Books in Oxford and on their website.