Through countless interviews with oft-overlooked residents of Tucson, Arizona, Brian Jabas Smith and Maggie Smith have crafted beautiful tales of sadness. This weekend, they’ll bring their book and accompanying documentary, both titled Tucson Salvage, to Manhattan and Brooklyn.
“We’re bringing people’s stories, and often they’re people who aren’t upwardly mobile themselves,” Maggie says. “For them to get to tell their stories in their own words and to be the shepherd of that and take it to other people is very moving.”
Author Brian and his wife, filmmaker Maggie, offer powerful glimpses into the lives of Tucson residents, casting a light on their whole lives. Tales of homelessness, drug addiction, gang violence and assault haunt both the film and book, transcending time and location to remind readers and viewers that this is the landscape of many, many Americans.
“People tend to emerge on the other side with some wisdom, having gone through something so challenging, even prison. Those are my favorite people,” Brian says.
The duo is extremely careful not to use Tucson Salvage to exploit sadness for a captivating story. “This kind of writing is observation without judgment,” Brian says. “It’s letting people just be themselves, good or bad. That’s where the beauty is.”
Brian Jabas Smith is an award-winning author and journalist with bylines in the Phoenix New Times and Detroit Metro Times, and the essays and stories from his book came from his column in the Tucson Weekly. But, in another life, he overcame crystal meth and alcohol addictions, was a childhood bike racer, and fronted rock-and-roll bands while writing songs with legends like Alice Cooper. The book is a silent confirmation of the idea that, because Jabas Smith has lived so many lives of his own, it’s easy for him to perfectly capture the minute details of other people’s lives.
Maggie Smith has lived in many cities across the US, and her career has seen her adapt, co-write and executive produce the 12-episode web series that accompanied Brian’s short-story collection, Spent Saints & Other Stories. The two currently have three feature films in development, and Maggie is working on a novel that will be out soon. Tucson Salvage is a half hour exploration of five of the characters in Brian’s book. The on-screen interviews with two men, two women and a transgender person from the book are intended to complement the novel’s release. “Seeing them come to life is really powerful,” Maggie says. “It provides a whole new perspective.”
After simultaneously releasing the book and film in November in London, Brian and Maggie kick off the American leg of the promotional tour with a two-night stint in New York City. Friday evening, an event at Bowery Electric will include readings by Jabas Smith and poet Jeanann Verlee, and appearances from musicians June Pierce, Silk Cut, Soul Cake, Puma Perl, Joe Sztabnik and Rick Eckerle. Saturday, the Tucson Salvage tour will be at powerHOUSE Books in Dumbo, from 6-8pm; the festivities will include a longer reading from Jabas Smith and a screening of the film.
The two will continue to tour across America in the following months, bringing familiar tales of beautiful sadness to every city they stop in.
While both events are free, the Saturday event in Brooklyn requires an RSVP.