Q&A: Richard Bausch

Richard Bausch is the author of nine novels, including Hello to the Cannibals, and five short-story collections including Wives and Lovers. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. After living in the Washington, D.C., area for most of his life, the University of Memphis lured him away in fall of 2005. There, he is professor of creative writing and the holder of the coveted Lillian and Morrie Moss Chair of Excellence.

Why Memphis?

The university made me a really nice offer. I had some trepidation about coming. I had only been here a couple of times. I liked it fine, but it was different. I did not expect to develop such a feeling for the place. It's so easy to get around. The people are so friendly. When we got here the people down the street from us and my next-door neighbor were all so helpful. Lisa [Bausch's wife] came in one day and said, 'My God, the garbage man just said, "How are you today?'" I love the flowers; the blooming around here is unbelievable. We've got all these azaleas in the backyard, and then these dogwoods, and these white blooms. I don't even know what they are.

Which characters from your fiction would best fit in here?

Yeah, sure. I like the town, I think they would too. There was a priest in the most recent one [Thanksgiving Night] named Father Fire, maybe he would fit in. Here people are out front about religion.

What do you write about?

I'm always writing about love, failures at it. Love and its antitheses. All the places where it isn't. Most of those places are violent and terrible. John Irving once said, 'I think up people, try to make them likable for the reader, and then I visit trouble upon them.' For me the trouble is always some threat to the feeling of being loved.

What current writers deserve more recognition?

Dozens of them. I wouldn't want to hurt anybody's feelings. When people come back, 50 or 60 years from now, to see how people actually lived their lives here, they won't come back to the authors some people are reading today. They're not going to come back to Grisham, for instance. Grisham's a damn good storyteller, but he's not writing about how people actually lead their lives every day. They probably won't come back to Stephen King. If they're concerned with how people lived day-to-day and dealt with their problems, they're going to come back to William Maxwell, George Garrett, Charlie Baxter, and Ann Beattie. This is the healthiest time in the history of America for fiction.

How does teaching affect your writing?

It feeds it. There are times I say something in class, and think, 'That's true. I've got to apply that myself.' I only have two rules. One is you've got to use words. The other is you've got to be interesting.

What do you think of the cliché that writers are people who prefer being alone?

It's just bullshit. That comes from someone who doesn't know writers. You have to be alone when you write, but I don't know any writer who isn't gregarious, and wants people around, and wants to hang out, tell stories, drink, and laugh. No writer that I know craves solitude. Writing is an act of mental health. John Berryman — who jumped off a bridge at 57 in Minneapolis — wrote poems. So everyone says, 'Well, that's a poet for you.' But the guy was 11 years old when he saw his father blow his brains out. If he hadn't written poetry, he would have offed himself before he got out of his teens. It was the poetry that kept him alive. Hemingway, when he couldn't write anymore, ended up offing himself. It had nothing to do with the writing though. I like Byron's attitude. When I can't do this anymore, I'll just do something else. 

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