On the work of writing: Kent Haruf

A beautiful little essay/autobiography from the late Kent Haruf, which Granta generously makes available on-line. As the modest Haruf says, he devoted himself to writing like an acolyte, which no doubt has everything to do with the quality of his work:

A couple of favorite passages:

On inwardness:

I learned to live completely inwardly in those years. I wouldn’t show anyone anything of myself. I never told anyone anything. The last thing I wanted was to draw attention to myself. If you had told me when I was fourteen or when I was twenty-two that some day I would come to regard my cleft lip as a gift, I would have said you were a fool and completely and utterly crazy. But, the truth is, I have come to think so now, to think that perhaps those years of unhappiness and isolation and living inwardly to myself have helped me to be more aware of others and to pay closer attention to what others around me are feeling. 

On the extraordinary power of some writers:

I entered college thinking I wanted to be a biology teacher, but once I took American literature classes, and once I began to read Faulkner and Hemingway, my life and my intentions were changed forever – I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life reading great writing and thinking about it. I was just shocked by what Faulkner and Hemingway could do on the page – it was as if the words they wrote were raised up off the page, as if there were a kind of shimmering aura about them, as if the stories were holy, and sacred, the most important matters in the world to know about – and I’ve never gotten over that feeling, and I don’t want to.

On workshops at Iowa:

I took workshops with various writers, including one with John Irving, and the way they all taught writing then was different from what teaching tends to be now: they didn’t mess around with your manuscript; what they did was more descriptive than it was prescriptive. They told you what they thought worked in a story and what didn’t and left it up to you to figure out how to fix it. 

As they say, read the whole thing. It's short but that only makes it all the more memorable.  


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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