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Interview

Dr John Barber talks about Richard Brautigan – Page 2

Meeting Richard Brautigan...

READERSVOICE.COM: When and where did you first become aware of Richard Brautigan’s work, and what was it that struck you?

JOHN F. BARBER: My introduction to Richard Brautigan was through his most famous novel, Trout Fishing in America. My sister gave me a copy as a birthday present, probably in 1968, as Brautigan’s fame was rocketing off the literary charts. I read the book and connected its journey motif with my own search for a sense of self.

What struck me at the time was two-fold: how many different manifestations a sought-for sense of identity might entail, and Brautigan’s use of creative language to promote imagination.

RV: Have you ever seen or perhaps met Mr Brautigan, and if so what were the circumstances and your impressions?

JB: Yes, I met Brautigan in the spring of 1982 when I was a student in a creative writing class he taught at Montana State University. We began meeting after class at the local VFW bar for what he called “cool drinks” and spent quite a bit of time together that spring and summer.

He was an interesting, gifted writer, a dynamic person, and like us all, a flawed human being. He was, I believe, lonely and at odds in a world that increasingly seemed to shun his efforts as a writer.

RV: I was wondering if you ever went and did other things with Mr Brautigan and if so what?

JB: Yes, we did many things together. As I said, we met often for “cool drinks” and this usually led to long conversations between the two of us, and with others who approached Brautigan. We often followed these late-night conversations with early morning meals at an all night diner.

We once attended a memorial service for victims of Hiroshima. Brautigan interrupted the program to publicly apologize for what happened. And I visited him in his home several times, most notably immediately following the death of the friend he writes about in his last novel, An Unfortunate Woman.

RV: What is it about Richard Brautigan’s style that you point to when teaching creative writing students?

JB: The first thing Brautigan said in the creative writing class in which I was a student was, “Creative writing is the use of language, imagination, and experience to entertain or educate.” That struck me then as a good starting point and it one that I try to share with my students now.

RV: Have you ever come across writing students of Richard Brautigan and maybe heard what approach he had to teaching writing, or some things he taught them?

JB: There were perhaps twenty students in this creative writing class and Brautigan’s approach was the same with all of us. He encouraged us to write about whatever captured our interest and he responded with encouragement to keep us writing. He once called me at home to say he was reading my work and liked it very much. I imagine he did the same with other students.

RV: Have you met Richard Brautigan’s friends, relatives or acquaintances, or been in contact with them, and what did information did they give about him?

JB: I have not met any of his family, but I have met several of his friends and former friends. Brautigan would often, for no apparent reason, turn against someone he had known for quite awhile, suddenly ending their friendship. From what Ianthe, his daughter, writes in her memoir, You Can’t Catch Death, Brautigan was equally mercurial as a family member.
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-copyright Simon Sandall.

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