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Interview

Dr Barber re Richard Brautigan P4

John Barber's favorite books, The Brautigan Library, Rip Torn, and Sam Peckinpah...

READERSVOICE.COM: How does interest in Richard Brautigan’s work compare today with when his books were published first?

JOHN F. BARBER: Interest today in Brautigan and his works is much less than it was when his first novels were published. When the sixties sentiments went out of favor, so did Brautigan, at least with the critics and readers at large. Interest in his work remains strong today, but I would say it’s driven primarily by teachers like myself who continue to include Brautigan in their course readings, and by readers who somehow discover him and find a connection to his writing style.

I have frequent conversations with people around the world who consider Brautigan one of their favorite writers. I would say interest in Brautigan is strong and in no danger of disappearing.

RV: Can you list some of your favorite books of all time, apart from Brautigan’s, whether fiction or non-fiction, biographies, anything, and tell why you liked them?

JB: My favorite books of all time include I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven, The Starship and the Canoe by Kenneth Brower, and Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.

Craven’s work is my favorite because of the beauty she brings to a true story. Brower’s work is my favorite because of the compelling way he uses split narrative to show how the lives of an estranged father and son are more closely linked than anyone admits. And Steinbeck’s work is my favorite because of the characters he creates.

I want to meet these people, spend time with them, have a few drinks in the Bear Flag Bar and Grill.

RV: Can you describe the Richard Brautigan library, and what are some of the titles of the books there? What is the future of the library and is it important in your opinion?

JB: The Brautigan Library is a collection of unpublished, and often unpublishable, manuscripts donated by their authors. The idea of the Brautigan Library is modeled after the library in Brautigan’s fourth novel The Abortion. The library in this novel, itself modeled after the Presido Branch of the San Francisco Public Library, is also a repository for unpublished manuscripts, administered by a young man, the narrator, who lives and works in the library, a life of lonely pleasure.

The Brautigan Library was founded by Todd Lockwood in Burlington, Vermont, in 1990. When the library closed in 1996, most of the donated manuscripts, along with Brautigan’s typewriter and glasses, were moved to the Fletcher Free Library, also in Burlington.

At last account the library was moving again, to the Presidio Branch Library in San Francisco.

RV: Can you explain what the connection between Rip Torn and Richard Brautigan was?

JB: Rip Torn, the actor, and Brautigan were friends. They met in San Francisco, possibly through their mutual connections with the Diggers, a group of social anarchists active in the Haight-Ashbury district, 1966-1968, who tried to achieve social change through street theater, leaderless events, and services to the needy. Their relationship included fishing and drinking together over a period of years.

RV: Did Richard Brautigan ever hang out with film-maker Sam Peckinpah?

JB: I do not know for a fact, but it seems reasonable that they did. Both Brautigan and Peckinpah were in the same area of Montana at the same time, They both had the same friends. I am sure they would have met and spent time together.

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Copyright Simon Sandall.
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