An unauthorized biography at Philips Library

A music and spoken word story of one man’s life

Ella Freeman

More stories from Ella Freeman

Across the Pond
February 7, 2024

Photo by Ella Freeman

Photo of Ken Szymanski and Derrick Black at the event.

The Unauthorized Biography of Mike Teclaw was an event in which Ken Szymanski read a biography he wrote about his late grandfather Mike Teclaw. This event was held at 6:30 p.m. on April 20 at the Phillips Library. 

This event focused on the journey that Szymanski took to get to know his grandfather after his passing. 

“I don’t think you can know who you are until you know where you came from. For most of my life, my grandfather was a mystery, and now he is a huge source of inspiration and I feel like I know him,” Szymanski said. 

According to Szymanski, this event has been seven years in the making. From the idea to the execution, he said it’d been a long but inspirational journey. 

“It’s definitely worth the work, just keep asking around and you’ll get people talking. If you show interest you’ll be surprised by the great stories you never knew,” Szymanski said.

Throughout the event, Szymanski told many stories of what it was like to search for Teclaw and many personal stories from Teclaw’s life. 

“I wanted to start with the death because that’s the only way I knew him,” Szymanski said. “Then we go way back and we work our way all the way back, and it felt like a complete circle.” 

The reading ended with words from one of Teclaw’s letters to his sister while he was deployed. According to Szymanski, finding these letters was a stroke of extreme luck. 

“Finding the letters, and meeting the woman who had them in a cemetery, had to be the end. It had to be the letters because he speaks to us, you just can’t top that. He got to speak at the end of his story,” Szymanski said. 

This event featured musical performer, Derrick Black. He played interludes between sections of the stories, as well as four songs handpicked by Szymanski. 

“Ken and I teach together. He came to me with this story that was kinda long, and he said it just needs to be broken up into different parts and it would be great if we had some sort of musical transition, and I said I was up for the challenge,” Black said. 

Szymanski allowed Black to create all of the transition music, but according to Black, Szymanski wanted four specific songs played throughout the event. Black said he had to go home and make sure they were all in his wheelhouse, and when they were he was excited to join the project. 

“He gave me free rein to say, ‘This section is kind of sad but it ends on a high note so go to it.’ So I said okay, I will play something minor key that transitions to a major key,” Black said. 

According to Black, the pair is pretty close, so it wasn’t awkward if the music wasn’t working, and they would rework it together. 

Black and Szymanski have been working together for some time now on events like this, Black said.

“Songs and stories back and forth, where the songs play into the stories, we have done about six or seven different shows,” Black said. 

Audience member Nancy Yost came to this event to hear a great story and said that her wish was fulfilled. 

“I came for the story, and when I saw there was music — I love the music in town — it was an extra incentive to come,” Yost said. 

Yost said she loves to choose events at the Phillips Library to spend her evenings.  

“I don’t know if they have had events just like this before, but I love when they do book fairs and such here,” Yost said. 

Yost said she has written a little bit, and this event inspired her to write to her grandchildren and look into her parent’s and grandparents’ stories. 

“I could have listened to just the story or just the music, it was all wonderful,”  Yost said. 

Freeman can be reached at [email protected].