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Nevada Writers Hall of Fame: Tom Meschery

Tom Meschery

Tom Meschery
Nevada Writers Hall of Fame 2002

Tom Meschery Nothing We Lose Can Be Replaced, Black Rock Press, UNR, 1999
Over the Rim, McCall, 1970.

Caught in the Pivot: a Diary of a Rookie Coach in the Exploding World of Pro Basketball. Dell, 1973.

The Image of the Athlete. [sound recording]. (University Lecture Series). Iowa State University, Jan. 14, 1974. (Institute on National Affairs)

Voices: Great Moments in Literature [videorecording]. Reno, NV: MarkOne Video, 1993-1994. (2 videocassettes, 298 min.) Readings by various Nevada writers, recorded at Nightingale Concert Hall, University of Nevada, Reno, in 1993 and on Feb. 9, 1994. [Available: Getchell Library: Multimedia Center, V04686]

Graduate of St. Mary's College, Moraga, CA, B.A.; University of Iowa, M.F.A.; studied poetry with Mark Strand, U.S. poet laureate at University of Washington; received teaching credentials at University of Nevada, Reno.

English teacher at Reno High School, poet. Former NBA basketball
player, NBA and Continental Basketball Association coach, and high school coach.

 See the Reno News & Review story, 12 December 2002

Towering 6'6'' Tom Meschery may be the tallest of all the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame honorees. For sure, he's the first to be a former National Basketball Association player.

A glance at his background reveals more firsts. No other NWHF recipient was born in Manchuria, China, to Russian parents. (They fled their homeland during the Bolshevik Revolution.) No other honoree, as a child, was relocated to a Japanese internment camp near Tokyo during World War II. (If you remember your history, Japan invaded China.)

Moving autobiographical poems of family, basketball, and teaching are collected in poet Meschery's Nothing We Lose Can Be Replaced. This poetry volume – plus his dedication to teaching the love of literature, words, and writing to high school students – earned him the NWHF award.

"I am overwhelmed – and surprised to say the least – with the award," said the 64-year-old poet. "I was not at all surprised when my wife (1999 NWHF Joanne Meschery) got the award a couple of years ago. She's an excellent writer with many fine books. But my publications are quite slim."

The NWHF committee, under chairperson Marian LaVoy, admired Meschery's poetry, especially his latest collection. "Not only did the committee honor him for his thoughtful poems," said La Voy, "but for his tremendous writing programs with high school students."

If his award inspires his students, then he will be especially pleased, Meschery said. Meschery has taught at Reno High School since 1984. Former students describe him as "awesome," "amazing," (the highest of teen-age compliments), "caring" and "encouraging." Virginia City poet Shaun Griffin, who worked with him on the Pinon Poetry Festival for fourth-through 12th graders, calls him "a natural teacher," "affable and down-to-earth."

This is the same guy known for his temper and fouls during his 10-year career in the NBA. This is the same guy whose teammates nicknamed "The Mad Russian." Some how, it doesn't fit. But then many would say Meschery doesn't fit the traditional image of a poet, either. He's neither physically slight, anemic, pale, or sissified.

Meschery's love of poetry goes back to his childhood and Russian roots. His father would read or recite poetry, and sometimes, after too much vodka, it moved him to tears.

"Poetry is a true Russian tradition, so there was a lot of poetry in our house," Meschery said in a 2000 Reno Gazette-Journal article. "A lot of American boys wouldn't hear poetry from their fathers because it's not considered manly."

That poetry was unmanly never occurred to Meschery: "Just to look at my father would scare you."

A wide gap, never bridged, between father and son began when a young Meschery immigrated to San Francisco. Meschery, who wanted to fit in with his American classmates, was embarrassed by his Russian-speaking father, who was unlike others. Two poems in Nothing We Lose Can Be Replaced address this "spotty relationship," as Meschery called it.

"Language Barrier" is one of them:

"Father, when you speak English
it's like a man losing his breath,
your hands always trying to make sure.
Clenched fist means anger.
Thumb up, approval…"

"…When your voice fails,
you return to Russian.
But I turn away.
Foreigners, we live together
With no common language."

"Those poems," said Meschery, referring to "Language Barrier" and another, "are my way of reconciliation, of reaching out to my father now that I am older and wiser."

And what would his father, Nicolas Mescheriakoff who died in 1962, think of his son now?

"He was never impressed with my ability to play sports," said Meschery. "But he'd be impressed with this award. He was a Russian and poetry runs deep in Russian tradition. He'd be pleased with his son."