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'Geek Love' Author Katherine Dunn Dies At 70


The 1989 book "Geek Love" went on to be a bestseller about a couple who breeds their children for circus acts like an albino hunchback and a boy with flippers instead of arms and legs. The author, Katherine Dunn, died this month at home in Portland, Ore. She was 70. She had lung cancer. Earlier today, I talked to Dunn's son, Eli Dapolonia. He says his mom came up with the idea for the book when he was a kid. The two of them were walking in a rose garden.

ELI DAPOLONIA: And she described that I was being difficult about going on this walk. But she started looking at these roses and thinking wouldn't it be cool if I could breed a more obedient son?

MCEVERS: Who hasn't had that thought, right? And so then how did that get to "Geek Love?"

DAPOLONIA: Well, you know, I think that she had kind of that initial idea, and then she realized that the things that made them unique, even the things that made some of them less attractive than other roses or smell not as nice as other roses were things that made them interesting and maybe the flaws and the uniqueness of each of us is something special.

MCEVERS: Your mom was a single mom. I understand she worked in a diner for some time and wrote in her spare time. What was that like for you growing up?

DAPOLONIA: Well, you know, it was interesting because she would get up very early to go and work at this diner. And I would walk to school with my friends, and she would be home by the time I came home from school and help me with my homework and make dinner and stuff like this. But then she would go and work another job after I'd gone to sleep.

MCEVERS: How did she have time to write?

DAPOLONIA: I don't know. She just - I remember falling asleep to the sound of an old-fashioned manual typewriter just sort of clacking away because that's what she had back in those days. And then she'd go off to work. And, you know, she didn't get a lot of sleep, and she was tired a lot of the time. But somehow she managed to do it.

MCEVERS: I understand she was also really into boxing. How did that happen?

DAPOLONIA: In the early '80s, she was involved with a guy who was a big boxing fan. And the relationship didn't last, but her interest in the sport really developed and flowered and became a huge part of her life. She started just being a fan and watching fights. And then she started writing articles about boxers and going and interviewing them. And a few years later, she actually started training as a boxer herself.

MCEVERS: And I understand her ability at boxing came in handy?

DAPOLONIA: It did. Just a few years ago, a young woman tried to mug her in front of her apartment building here in Northwest Portland. And she had, like, her arm wrapped around her purse so she couldn't use her left. If you know anything about boxing, if you're right-handed, you're supposed to lead with the jab - the left jab, right? But she did a fair amount of damage with her right and fought the mugger off, and the mugger ended up being arrested later on. And I think she took some damage.

MCEVERS: She was such a figure there in Portland, Ore. How were people there remembering her?

DAPOLONIA: It's interesting. We got some photos of mom blown up for the small funeral we're having. And my wife went and picked them up at the place where they were being blown up for the funeral. And the guy who helped her literally started crying while he was handing the stuff over to her.

So I think there are a lot of people in Portland and around the country and around the world who've really been touched somehow by her work. And I couldn't speculate on what it means to them. I think it's probably always an individual thing. But it's amazing to see. It's amazing to see.

MCEVERS: Eli Dapolonia, thank you so much for your time today. I'm sorry for your loss.

DAPOLONIA: I really appreciate you calling. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.