The Good Hand | A Memoir of Work, Brotherhood, and Transformation in an American Boomtown

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The Good Hand | A Memoir of Work, Brotherhood, and Transformation in an American Boomtown

Book Launch with Michael Patrick Smith

FRI APR 8 | 7:30 PM
$20, $17 members (+$3 Service Fee)

"Beautiful, funny, and harrowing" 
-The Atlantic

"Remarkable...this is the book that Hillbilly Elegy should have been."
-Kirkus Reviews

"A rambling honky-tonk of a book, with the soul of a songwriter and the ache of a poor white boy who grew up rough. It is big and it is pretty and it is amazing."
-Los Angeles Times

"A book that should be read"
- New York Times

Featuring Performances by: Michael Patrick Smith, J. Thomas Hnatow, Caleb Stine, and Nick Sjostrom
Hosted by: Ben Forstenzer (Lawyer & Labor Organizer)

Writer, storyteller, and musician, Michael Patrick F. Smith returns to Baltimore to celebrate the Penguin paperback release of THE GOOD HAND (A Memoir of Work, Brotherhood, and Transformation in an American Boomtown). Smith was last seen at the Patterson Theater opening up for folk icon Ramblin' Jack Elliott. His play Woody Guthrie Dreams debuted at the Creative Alliance and was later mounted at Theater for the New City in New York. For the paperback release of his memoir, Smith will read from his acclaimed memoir, tell stories and play songs about his time working on oil rigs in North Dakota during the Bakken boom.

He will be joined on stage by J. Thomas Hnatow, as well as local folk heroes Caleb Stine and Nick Sjostrom. The evening will be hosted by lawyer and labor organizer Ben Forstenzer.

J. Tom Hnatow is a producer, engineer, and instrumentalist based in Lexington, KY. He has worked with and/or played on albums from Horse Feathers, Ian Noe, Joe Pug, These United States, Vandaveer, John R. Miller, Tyler Childers, and Ringo Starr, among others.

Ben Forstenzer is a writer, father, musician, gardener, bower, flute maker, lawyer and labor organizer. He’s busy and tired a lot. But it may all work out in the end.  


A vivid window into the world of working-class men set during the Bakken fracking boom in North Dakota.

The Good Hand is a book about transformation - a classic American story of one man's attempt to burn himself clean through hard work, reconcile himself to himself, find community, and become whole. Tonight, we celebrate the launch of the paperback edition, with a discussion, Q and A, and a performance from author Michael Patrick Smith.

Like thousands of restless men left unmoored in the wake of the 2008 economic crash, Michael Patrick Smith arrived in the fracking boomtown of Williston, North Dakota, five years later homeless, unemployed, and desperate for a job. Renting a mattress on a dirty flophouse floor, he slept boot to beard with migrant men who came from all across America and as far away as Jamaica, Africa, and the Philippines. They ate together, drank together, argued like crows, and searched for jobs they couldn't get back home. Smith's goal was to find the hardest work he could do - to find out if he could do it. He hired on in the oil patch where he toiled 14-hour shifts from summer's 100-degree dog days to deep into winter's bracing whiteouts, all the while wrestling with the demons of a turbulent past, his broken relationships with women, and the haunted memories of a family riven by violence.

The Good Hand is a saga of fear, danger, exhaustion, suffering, loneliness, and grit that explores the struggles of America's marginalized boomtown workers - the rough-hewn, castoff, seemingly disposable men who do an indispensable job that few would exalt: oil field hands who, in the age of climate change, put the gas in our tanks and the food in our homes. Smith, who had pursued theater and played guitar in New York, observes this world with a critical eye; yet he comes to love his coworkers, forming close bonds with Huck, a goofy giant of a young man whose lead foot and quick fists get him into trouble with the law, and The Wildebeest, a foul-mouthed, dip-spitting truck driver who torments him but also trains him up and helps Smith "make a hand".


Covid Safety Policy (as of March 4, 2022)

Amidst the ongoing effects of COVID-19, we continue to prioritize the health and well-being of staff, artists, youth, audiences, and our community. We are committed to following Baltimore City public health guidelines as we rehire, train, and work towards a full reopening in the fall. Thank you for bearing with us!

Vaccination Status:

  • All patrons ages 12+ visiting Creative Alliance for performances, screenings, workshops, other theater-based gatherings, gallery openings, or events in the lobby are required to show proof of vaccination against Covid-19. Proof of vaccination may include a physical card, a photo of a complete vaccination card, or digital immunization records. All patrons over the age of 18 will be asked to show a photo ID with their vaccination card.
  • Patrons that are not vaccinated are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test completed within 48 hours of the event time. All patrons over the age of 18 will be asked to show a photo ID with their test results.


  • Creative Alliance strongly recommends that visitors continue wearing masks in the building to protect staff, volunteers, artists, and vulnerable members of our community. Creative Alliance staff and volunteers will continue wearing masks in the building to help keep our community safe. 
  • Visitors are strongly encouraged to wear facial masks regardless of vaccination status. Creative Alliance recommends that masks be worn at all times unless actively eating or drinking and be replaced when not eating or drinking. 
  • Creative Alliance may still require masks at certain events or performances based on artists’ requests. Patrons should continue checking our website or contact the Box Office for information about specific events.


  • Our bar will be open and beverages will be available for purchase and consumption prior to and during theater-based events. Outside food and drink are prohibited.


  • Events will be at full capacity. We are a small venue and physical distancing will be very limited.  For theater-based events, you will likely have fellow audience members sitting directly next to, in front of, and behind you, at a distance of less than 6 feet.

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