Former Wayne resident 'Sharing a Napkin' with new anthology of a career in journalism

It's a near universal thought when packing during a move - "why do I have so much stuff? Why have I kept this all these years?"

For some people, it inspires them to downsize, donate or sell items no longer used. For former Wayne resident and Wayne State College professor, David "Max" McElwain, his ubiquitous packing moment lead him to releasing his third book, "Sharing a Napkin: Selected Writings 1969-2019."

The book is a collection on published and unpublished works by McElwain, who clocked an impressive near half-century in journalism. After leaving Wayne, McElwain and his wife Karen moved first back to their hometown of Woodbine, Iowa, then to Ames. It was during the second move, in 2018, that McElwain decided it was time to look through his work.

"As I toted box after box of newspapers and magazines up the stairs into our apartment, I thought: what had been the use of saving all these clippings if I didn’t do anything with them?," McElwain wrote in the introduction of "Sharing a Napkin."

McElwain had quite the collection to look back on. While "Sharing a Napkin's" collection begins in 1969, McElwain had actually been a working journalist as early as 1966. He started his professional career as the Woodbine Twiner's sports editor when he was in his early teens.

"It was really the best job of my life because I learned how to write doing that. I learned the discipline of writing," McElwain said. "It was a great experience. I knew that I was wanting to do that at an early age."

"Sharing a Napkin” covers a wide variety of topics, mostly in the form of columns, but there are also essays, an award-winning short story, and other works included. What makes the collection so compelling is that the reader gets to go on a journey through time and space with McElwain.

McElwain has somewhat of a restless spirit and through "Sharing a Napkin" readers get to join him on a lifetime of adventures from working in small-town Iowa to a daily Kansas City newspaper, travels abroad and more.

Throughout the published and unpublished work, McElwain also includes author's notes for the readers, giving more insight into what they're about to read. Whether it's explaining the background of a sports column or giving an update on the complex relationship he had with his father, these notes often highlight McElwain's humor and humanity.

But how does one find the time to sift through 50 years worth of writing and prep that for publication?

"This pandemic has worked out pretty good for me," McElwain joked. "I had something to do to preoccupy myself. That's when I said, what am I gonna do with these things? Am I gonna put them in scrapbooks? So I said, you know, I'm going to collect them all."

Collecting them included clipping, scanning and editing his selection, which took most of a winter. His next step took some more thought. To find an agent or to self-publish.

"I could have gotten an agent and paid someone to do that...but then I thought 'that's going to take years,'" he said. "I'm fortunate that I have a brother-in-law who has been publishing books for decades."

McElwain previously published a book, "Hunan Evenings: Life in the Loess Hills East and Elsewhere" through Eagle Books, his brother-in-law's company. For this publication, McElwain's first pressing included 100 book, but they're going fast. For those who can't get their hands on a hard copy, "Sharing a Napkin" is also available on Amazon.

With such a wide variety of his work to choose from, McElwain said readers, particularly those from Wayne, may enjoy "The Ripening of Cherry Tomatoes" an essay he wrote shortly after taking the post as professor and advisor to the Wayne Stater. McElwain and his wife lived in Wayne for 15 year, which he said is longer than he's lived anywhere as an adult.

"That talks about how much I enjoyed Wayne State. It sort of explains my feelings of love for the place," he said. "That's why I was there for 15 years. I just loved doing what I was doing."

Copies of the book can be found at eaglebooks.com/bookstore for hard copies or by searching the title on Amazon for digital copies. Along with "Sharing a Napkin" and "Hunan Evenings," McElwain has also written a "The Only Dance in Iowa: A History of Six-Player Girl's Basketball."

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