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By Bob Uphues
If you were interested in the Great Water Tower War in Riverside back in 1998, you probably kept track of the action through articles in the Landmark written by its then-editor Alexi Zentner.
Remember him? Shaved head. Earring. From Canada. Fresh out of Grinnell College. Nice guy.
No? Well, there's probably a hard core cult that does. I know JoAnne Kosey remembers him. He brought her flowers the day they had a lunch date soon after he was hired. She talks about it to this day, probably because I haven't brought her flowers and I'm somehow not getting the hint.
Anyway, Alexi wasn't around so very long with the Landmark. He was her from March to November of 1998. Landmark editors had a habit of leaving in those days.
He went out to Vail, Colorado, where he'd accepted another reporting job, only to have that paper close its doors within weeks of him arriving. He kicked around there for a couple years before coming back to Chicago and getting a job teaching rock climbing, where he met his wife.
And then, he figured it out. He went to Cornell University, got his MFA in creative writing and began his career as a short story author and, later, novelist.
On May 27, his second novel The Lobster Kings, was released in the United States by his publisher W.W. Norton.
The story revolves around a lobster fishing family that has called an island straddling the U.S.-Canada border home for 300 years. The family struggles to maintain the island's traditional way of life in the face of outside forces conspiring to change it.
When he's not writing fiction, Alexi is an assistant professor of creative writing at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York, not too far from his home in Ithaca, where he's lived for the past eight years.
"I always wanted to be a writer," said Zentner in a phone interview on Thursday. "I loved the idea of having a book, but I didn't realize what it took to sit down and write it."
That's where his short tenure at the Landmark comes in.
"Journalism taught me that writing is a job,' he said. "You can't wait for the candle and the bottle of wine and the gauzy curtains.
"That job is what made me realize I could be a writer. I'm still eternally grateful for it."
Alexi says that he wasn't cut out for journalism, that it wasn't a good fit.
"The hardest part was having to cover things that aren't pleasant," he said. "I struggled with asking questions I wouldn't want to be asked myself."
But he's proud enough of his time with the Landmark that he still has a couple of front pages, including his first edition from March 5, 1998, framed and hanging in his home in Ithaca.
Asked what he remembered about those days, Alexi said he enjoyed the camaraderie of the newsroom. What stuck with him in terms of news coverage was the battle over the Northgate water tower in Riverside.
"My entire term was defined by the fight over the Riverside water tower," he said.
And even though journalism wasn't for him, he said he knew what he was doing in that job was important.
"I think [community journalism] a really undervalued thing," he said. "Where you live really matters."