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Find the Rothbarts in Grinnell

By Meg Schmitt

Davy Rothbart, founder of FOUND magazine, author, documentary filmmaker and journalist extraordinaire, is coming to campus this Sunday, November 11, and he’s bringing his musically gifted brother Peter, the “international heartthrob” (as per his description on FOUND’s website).

The duo are bringing their road trip tour to Grinnell through the Writers@Grinnell program in celebration of the 10th anniversary of FOUND magazine and Davy’s new book. My Heart Is An Idiot, published in September, is a collection of personal essays exposing and exploring Davy Rothbart’s forays into love and the adventures that inevitably result. The event promises to be a wild and weird one, with both Rothbarts taking center stage in an evening of singing and story telling.

Davy and Peter will be both speaking and singing about FOUND magazine, a collection of small tokens submitted by people across the country with each discoverer’s interpretation of the story behind whatever note, picture, doodle or receipt they found intriguing.

FOUND magazine is celebrating its tenth anniversary of publishing mystery-laden tidbits this year, with Davy hitting the trail to spread the word and promote his own mystery-laden stories in his collection of personal essays.

FOUND magazine was inspired by the angry words of Amber on Davy’s windshield back in 2000.

“I got a note addressed to Mario, so I open it up and it said ‘Mario—I f*cking hate you. You said you had work why is your car here and at her place? You’re a LIAR! I hate you, I f*cking hate you. Amber—P.S. page me later,’” Davy Rothbart said. “The magazine just seemed a natural way for people to share their findings with everybody else.”

And FOUND magazine has met with success for this reason: everybody is curious about the postcard never mailed, the picture at a wedding in the 1980s in a dumpster and the note scrawled on a post-it run over by a car.

The magazine has now released its eighth edition, ready for both mail order and online access on their website,

Davy Rothbart’s curiosity drives him ever onward in his multitude of interests and resulting projects. FOUND editor is just one of a variety of hats that Davy Rothbart puts on. Others include radio journalist for This American Life, and his most recent role as a documentary filmmaker. Davy Rothbart recently released a documentary, Medora, about an aspiring basketball team’s hopeful quest for victory in rural Indiana.

Davy Rothbart holds different but equal regard for each form.

“[Journalist, filmmaker, editor] all share in this ability to go talk to anybody and ask them whatever you want…I like having that sort of privilege,” Davy Rothbart said. “You get to meet real people and ask them what their actual stories are.”

Within this collection of media forms, a theme is still discernible and rooted in the original motivation for FOUND.

“It really comes down to a curiosity of other people’s lives, just like a fragment of a story, it sparks your imagination to fill in the blanks,” Davy Rothbart said. “It’s fun to imagine what those stories could be.”

It’s the imagination that strikes any reader of the many posted odds and ends in FOUND, especially the finder’s thoughts: the telltale hints of a note’s origins, the finder’s theories about meaning and the raw emotion in the notes themselves draw an observer into an imaginative rabbit’s hole, leaping from one schoolyard love letter to another hastily scribbled list.

While Davy Rothbart admits his curiosity has won out occasionally, for the most part, he resists the temptation to pursue the magazine’s many finds.

“It’s not about their story so much… it’s more about your imagination of them, about who you imagine them to be,” Davy Rothbart said.

In My Heart Is An Idiot, however, the reader gets to “find” Davy Rothbart’s many adventures for themselves, a turning of the tables for all the publisher of FOUND’s items.

“I realize that I’ve been publishing peoples’ most private thoughts in FOUND magazine for the last ten years, so I felt it only fair to open myself up in the same way and share some of my personal stories,” Davy Rothbart said.

The adventures and, at times, misadventures of Davy Rothbart carry hearty themes of perseverance, hope and humor in Rothbart’s inventive and charming writing style. His frank assessments and bizarre situations contrast with deep moments of enlightenment, and plenty of laughs in between.

His stories reel from being “some random naked dude” in New York City to taking discreet pee breaks at parties in his native Michigan, and reveal many of the discoveries Davy Rothbart found along the way.

The Rothbart show coming to Grinnell is a two-person act, with Davy’s brother Peter penning songs to accompany these episodes, matching the distinct mixture of depth and humor of Davy’s written works.

Peter Rothbart, also known by his band name The Poem Adept, is releasing his new album You Are What You Dream this fall and has been Davy’s longtime companion in FOUND and many other ventures. His folksy roots lend themselves well to his vocalized versions of FOUND notes.

Davy Rothbart and FOUND magazine have been making discoveries for a decade—and there’s sure to be plenty to find at their event this Sunday at 8:00 p.m. in JRC 101.

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