Tom Flynn talks writing process

‘Bikeman’ author visits Allegheny


“I don’t plan to write another one,” Tom Flynn said on the evening of Sept. 13, two days after the 20th anniversary of the event which was the subject of his apparently first and last work of epic poetry, “Bikeman.”

Flynn visited Allegheny College for the weekend to coincide with the Playshop Theatre’s production of “Bikeman” as well as to speak with classes and clubs such as the advanced poetry workshop.

Flynn is a man who one could imagine came into being quickly after the Hollywood ideal of “the reporter” was invented. He was a reporter during 9/11 but unlike a lot of his colleagues in the field, he was there, on the ground, beneath the first tower just as it fell. He found himself narrowly escaping with a handful of others to an underground parking garage where he was temporarily trapped before escaping to the surface, all the while grasping onto his bike, earning him the name “Bikeman.”

“Bikeman” was published in 2013, but Flynn wrote the first draft in six months before spending another year and a half revising. Due to Flynn’s lack of experience as a creative writer — his entire career had up to that point been in news writing for both print and television — he found the process of writing an epic poem a bit difficult. Despite this, Flynn is adamant that there is no such thing as writer’s block..“Bulls—-!” Flynn said. “Do bricklayers get bricklayers’ block?”












Flynn is a believer in the workman quality that he believes newswriting, and writing in general, is all about.

The epic poem began as a way for Flynn to simply document what he saw on 9/11 — he was a reporter, so reporting was second nature to him. However, the magnitude of the event made it clear that he would have to venture outside of his news writing comfort zone to capture the personal connection he felt to the attacks. The solution to this came in the form of Dante’s “Inferno,” which Flynn was rereading at the time of writing “Bikeman.”

“(Dante) was going through Hell and trying to explain it,” Flynn said.

Flynn used the allusions and metaphors that Dante used in his own epic poem.

“See, if you call it ‘homage’ you can steal it,” Flynn said jokingly of the process of taking from the epic of the past and putting it into the epic of the present.

The story of “Bikeman” is relayed in striking detail, the scene being set and the emotions conveyed with clarity and craftsmanship, which Flynn attributes to his experience as a reporter. The scenes of him witnessing the deaths of the people who jumped from the building and the scene of escaping the parking garage to see the aftermath of the tower falling are emotionally affecting and poignant. The poetry takes the concepts lifted from “Inferno” and applies them to the narrative being told, which the actors of the stage production recite, giving an even greater vibrancy.