- Kent Haruf
grew up on the high plains of northeastern Colorado. He was Educated
at Nebraska Wesleyan University (B.A. 1965) and The University
of Iowa (MFA 1973). He served in the Peace Corps in Turkey, teaching English as a second language
to middle school kids in a village on the Anatolian Plateau.
Besides that, over the years, he's worked at a variety of other
places: a chicken ranch in Colorado, the Royal Gorge in the Rocky
Mountains, a construction site in Wyoming, the railroad tracks
in southeastern Montana, a pest control company in Kansas, a
rehabilitation hospital in Denver, an orphanage in Montana, a
surgery wing in a hospital in Phoenix, a presidential library
in Iowa, an alternative high school in Wisconsin, a country school
in Colorado, and a college in Nebraska. Since 1991 he's been
at SIUC where he teaches fiction writing and forms of fiction
classes to graduates and undergraduates.
Haruf (pronounced so that it rhymes with sheriff)
is the author of two novels: The Tie That Binds (1984)
and Where You Once Belonged (1990).
His short fiction has appeared in Puerto Del Sol, Grand Street,
Prairie Schooner, and Gettysburg Review, and has been included
in Best American Short Stories (1987) and Where Past Meets Present:
Modern Colorado Short Stories (1993). His awards included the
American Library Association Distinguished Book List, the PEN-Hemingway
Foundation Special Citation, a Whiting Foundation Writer's Award,
and the Maria Thomas Award in Fiction.
His third novel, Plainsong,
published by Knopf (October, 1999), was a nominee for Book of
"Kent Haruf's new
novel Plainsong is nothing short of a revelation. I don't expect
to read a better novel this year. Or next, for that matter."
-Richard Russo, author of Nobody's Fool
Page One: "Where
did you grow up and how much did books and writing effect your
life? Who are some of your favorite books/writers?"
Kent: "I grew
up in Colorado on the high plains NE where I write about. Both
of my parents were avid readers. As a kid I read the Black Stallion
series, My Friend Flicka, and westerns. In college it was Faulkner
and Hemingway. "The Bear" and "The Sound and the
Fury" are two of my favorites."
Page One: "What is at the center of the story
PLAINSONG? Your writing has an emotional impact -- Would
you say this is your style? Or is the story? Or both?"
"Plainsong is the story
of decent people who have real problems and they are trying to
find the solutions to their problems. I was very consciously
trying to avoid sentamentalsim but wanted the story to be compelling.
Every good novel/story should involve the reader. There should
be some kind of connection with the characters.I wanted to show
rather than tell. Present in compelling ways --"
Page One: "Where
does the title Plainsong come from?"
Kent: "The title
came to me after the book was finished. It came from an old gospel
song, "They tell me of an Uncloudy Day" which appealled
to me because it was a song sung in unison without accompany.
It was a simple song. It was a plain song. Plainsong--the unisonous
vocal music used in the Christian church from the earliest times;
any simple and unadorned melody or air. There's an obvious pun
that this is kind of a song or an emblem for the Plains or an
anthem for the Plains. Sung in a plain style. These are regular,
ordinary sort of elemental characters and I think they're presented
sort of directly and I wanted the prose to be kind of simple
and direct. My first two books had titles that were from songs.
The story took about six years to evolve but when
I was a kid my father was a preacher and there were two old men
who were brothers who came to the church every Sunday."
Page One: "One
of your main characters is Tom Guthrie.
Do Kent Haruf and Tom Guthrie have anything in common?"
is not at the least autobiographical. We both are teachers and
that's about it."
Page One: "The
character of Tom Guthrie is flexing his character in his roles
as father and romantic partner. He doesn't flinch to defend right
from wrong. He's very strong?"
is, but he's also numb and it took someone like Maggie Jones
to wake him up. He has in some ways gone the path of least resistance.
Judy, the high school secretary, is attractive and attracted
to him and that's not going to go anywhere. But Maggie insists
that if he's going to be with her he's going to have be straight
and responsible in ways that he hasn't been, at least with the
school secretary. In other ways he is an ethical man and he's
trying to do the right thing."
you agree that he matures with the evolution of his relationship
Kent: "I do. I also think that he's a caring and attentive
father but when the boys go out to the McPheron's, he's shocked
by their disappearance and that shakes him up, too. He realizes
that he's going to have to be an even better father than he's been before because
his boys have left home."
"The characters' voices are as fully developed
and consistent as the voices one knows from one's own life.You
are able to conjure the voice of children, specifically Ike and
Bobby, in a realistic, heartwarming and memory-stirring way.
How did you find the access to children's rhythm?"
I was conscious of trying to tell the story in
a clear-telling way. I was trying to deliberately not create
the internal type of prose but to show what they are thinking
by an external presentation. I remember my boyhood in this area
and I wanted to portray these little boys accurately without
sentimentalism. I think that usually the risk in trying to write
children in fiction is the tendency to make them too cute or
something. In this case, these little boys are almost two halves
of the same whole. They can communicate with very few words there.
They're close, always have been, but they're both undergoing
the same problems. In my view, what they're trying to do is find
some understanding or at least consolation for the first major
problem in their lives. Their mother has retreated into a really
strong, deep depression and leaves them, leaves the house, and
so on. These boys are on an inarticulate search for some kind
of comfort or love and in their search they are thrown up against
all kinds of adult experiences. They are not old enough to understand
all they see or do, so by the end their only recourse, and again
it's intuitive rather than analytical, is to ride out to the
McPheron brothers where they had been well-treated once before
and sensed that there was some solace there.
At seventeen, Victoria Robideaux is at the other
end of childhood facing an adult dilemma. Her life is very different
from the boys'. They live just five blocks from her but with
their paper route and bicycles and horses and early morning risings,
they live a more rural existence. She lives right in town and
experiences a more contemporary version of this town's life.
Her malaise is presented in very contemporary tones.
I think your right about that. She's gotten herself
caught up into events and problems that she's not ready to deal
with. She's pretty innocent and has to try to find her way, and
she bviously needs help doing that.She dresses in a racy fashion
but doesn't seem to have a lot of vices.No, she's a fairly moral
person within her own constraints. She dresses a little racy
in a way many teenage girls do but without really knowing what
that implies or means and so she has gotten herself into trouble
and now needs help with it."
Page One: "Ike
and Bobby are responding to a situation in their life
while she is responding to an endemic aspect of her life, which
is a lack of love?"
Kent: "That's right. Her mother kicks her out and
her father disappeared long ago and she's kind of a loner in
town. She doesn't have many close friends. I had in mind that
part of the cause of that is her father is an American Indian
and so she's kind of an outcast in town. Her mother is taking
out some of her feelings for the father on the girl."
Page One: "What
does the imagery of cooking and food play in this story?"
you very much for noticing that. I did have something in mind
in terms of food in the communal use or consuming of it. It always
seems to me that one of the ways you show love is to prepare
food for somebody. The father is doing that at the beginning
of the story. At the end, Victoria feels confident enough and
secure enough in her place out there so that she is the one who
has begun to do the cooking and she's the one who presents the
food to the boys when they come out to the McPheron's. At the
very end of the book there is the suggestion that soon they will
all go in and eat supper together."