Kent Haruf in the House and Thomas McGuane in the News

For the last two days I’ve had the good fortune of a visit from novelist Kent Haruf, who gave a reading on our campus last night. Kent’s a natural raconteur (I’ve been waiting years to use that word) and told the audience how he grew up in eastern Colorado, the son of a Methodist preacher, and couldn’t wait to leave the high plains, about which he said, “It’s flat, treeless, unpopulated, and windy most all the time.” Once he left, to live in Turkey as a Peace Corps worker teaching English to rural students who “would probably never use it again in their life, and didn’t need it,” and to serve as a conscientious objector in the Vietnam War, he later came to miss Colorado and the high plains, which now he admits, “It’s not pretty, but it’s beautiful.”
All this explains his focus on the fictional (or mythic) town of Holt, Colorado, the setting for all his novels—The Tie That Binds (1984), Where You Once Belonged (1990), Plainsong (1999), and Eventide (2004). I was surprised to hear that he didn’t begin publishing until into his Forties, which runs counter to the media myth of the Brilliant Young Writer. He claims to be a slow learner and made a point that he’s not so much a writer as a person learning to write. He’s a true gentleman, soft-spoken, with a somewhat raspy voice, and paid attention to others, including the many students who asked questions during the Q&A at the end of the reading.
We were lucky to be in his presence, and at a bar after the reading, I pulled out my new Kindle (which he’d never seen before) and showed him Eventide in Kindle form. But that’s probably a dangerous thing to do, for a writer—powering up your Kindle in a bar, surrounded by other writers. We argued over a sex scene in Lolita so much I ended up purchasing it (while I have probably four to five copies, including a first edition, of Lolita already), plus some Chekhov stories, just to show others how easy it was. Literary impulse purchasing! The future is now.
And another Western writer is in the news this morning: Tom McGuane has a new novel about to appear, titled Driving on the Rim. Here’s the piece in this morning’s NY Times:

While I’ve never been fortunate enough to have Tom McGuane over to the house, I’ve seen him read at a small bookstore, where he was both rugged and gracious. What I remember most about him is his fiction, a scene involving illicit-love-gone-wrong at a drive-in theater making me laugh out loud. That he’s a rancher in Montana, and honors a tradition and a love of the land that I share, only makes him more interesting to me, and perhaps genuine.

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