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Andrew Malan Milward

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Andrew Malan Milward

Photo by Kristin Teston

(2018 - Prose)

Excerpt from "The Americanist"

When John Romulus Brinkley, a.k.a. the Goat Gland Doctor, decided to publish his memoir, he hired someone else to write the book for him and chocked it so full of lies and half truths that Brinkley succeeded in turning the seasoned biographer into a promising writer of fiction. But Brinkley needn’t have done so. His story required no embellishment. The book, The Life of a Man, was released long after he was already world-famous, and it was a fame, as with his nickname, born of the millions of dollars he made injecting the testicles of Toggenberg goats into men to improve virility. This was 1920s rural Kansas, a little nowhere town called Milford, but Dr. Brinkley put it on the American and world map, a destination for impotent and infertile men seeking to touch the hem of the Milford Messiah, the Ponce de Leon of Kansas who’d discovered the rejuvenation of man.

Brinkley was that deadly combination: lucky, smart, and ambitious. Up from nothing to millionaire in a few short years, a kind of garish, backwoods Gatsby. He got in on radio early, purchasing one of the first private stations in the country in 1923, and Brinkley was shrewd in its use. He knew he couldn’t simply advertise his procedure on the airwaves. He had to win people over, seduce them, so he filled his programming with musicians and entertainers, going on the air himself only twice a day to give “medical talks” about the wonders of his goat gland operation. The procedure took ten minutes and cost seven hundred dollars. People came by the trainload. He was a charlatan of course, but, most sexual hangups being psychological, the surgery worked for many. Believing you carried the fecund potency of a bearded, randy billy goat because you had its genitals slipped into your scrotum did wonders for a man’s confidence. Seeking to regulate the field, the newly organized American Medical Association made Brinkley its top target, going after him for a decade. Finally, by 1930, the AMA had pressured the Kansas Medical Board to revoke his license to practice and the federal government to revoke his license to broadcast, shutting down what had become in a few short years the most popular radio station in the country. It was a double victory for the AMA. They’d finally got him. Brinkley was finished, or so they thought.     

There’s more to the story, but I stop because Will asks if I’m making this up. Actually, it’s not a question—he just says that I am, but he does so in an amused way that tells me he believes every word and is only playing his part as interested listener, the receiver of a fantastic tale. Our relationship is six months old, and while the Brinkley story is true I have already begun to tell the little lies that will become big lies. As in all my previous relationships, I’m pulling away from Will or pushing him away from me, if there’s any difference. He recently moved into the house and will have moved out before I have the chance to finish telling him the story of the Goat Gland Doctor.

("The Americanist” copyright © 2015 by Andrew Malan Milward was originally published in Guernica and reprinted in Andrew Malan Milward’s I Was a Revolutionary, Harper, 2015. Permission granted by the author)

Andrew Malan Milward grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, and is the author of the story collections The Agriculture Hall of Fame, which was awarded the Juniper Prize for Fiction by the University of Massachusetts, and I Was a Revolutionary (HarperCollins, 2015). A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has served as the McCreight Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin, a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, and has received fellowships and awards from the Lannan Foundation, Jentel, and the Corporation of Yaddo. He lives in Auburn, Alabama, where he is an assistant professor of English at Auburn University and serves as the fiction editor of Southern Humanities Review.

It is a tremendous honor to receive a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. As writers, we often work in isolation for long stretches of time, and there are far more setbacks and disappointment than there are successes and validation. Receiving this award is not only encouragement from the universe that I’m not crazy for trying to do this, it also makes me feel part of a larger community of artists and meaning-makers. I’m proud to live in a country that believes in and appreciates the contributions of artists and is willing to back that up with vital monetary support. I hope it will continue to do so always.