Bestselling author Kent Haruf has a way of asking big questions in small ways, addressing everyday problems while bringing people and place together in a fictional Colorado town.
His novel “Plainsong” won the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and The New Yorker Book Award. In 2006, he was a recipient of the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature.
All of his novels are set in the imagined town of Holt, which is loosely based on Yuma, Colo., where Haruf lived in the 1980s. He will speak about his newest novel, “Benediction,” at noon today in the Pinnacle Resource Center, Room 317 at the Colorado Mountain College campus in Leadville. His talk is part of the campus library’s Local Author Series, which runs through November. The Summit Daily News spoke with Haruf about life in a fictional town, writing about cancer and his three decades of experience in the industry.
Kelsey Fowler: All five of your books are set in the fictional eastern town of Holt, Colo. Does this common setting tie them together, almost like one series?
Kent Haruf: I grew up in the high plains in Colorado. The purpose of creating my own town and county and setting it all out there means I don’t have to reinvent another town for each book. I can go back to that same place. They are each set in a different time, so I would not consider them a series.
KF: Did you base any of your novels on memories you have of Colorado?
KH: Writing fiction is not an autobiography. It comes out of your imagination and knowledge of humanity. With my books, none of the characters are based on people I know. It’s a different kind of effort.
KF: Can you look at your newest book, “Benediction,” and see how you’ve grown as a writer over the years?
KH: The characters in “Benediction” are all new characters. There are only two books in which characters appeared more than once. Each book has its own separate people. My first book was published in 1984, and now it’s 2013 and that’s a long time between these five novels. I’m slow at writing, I take a good deal of time to write each book. This last one I worked on over six years. My efforts go to writing as clearly and accurately and evocatively about the characters I imagine.
KF: Readers know from the beginning your main character is dying. Did you ever have a family member or friend diagnosed with cancer?
KH: I have no cancer experience but just general knowledge of what happens to people in this situation. I was a hospice volunteer for a while and so I saw people — the last months of their lives, to see somebody die. Those kind of experiences had an effect. I try to write realistically. It’s my own life experiences and my own imagination. There’s no suspense in this book, we know the main character, he’s dying on the first page. It’s more about what happens to him and the people around him.
KF: Most of your stories focus on the ordinary, everyday lives of people. What do you hope people think about after they put your books down?
KH: Over the range of novels I hope to say something about what happens in people’s lives, or even this part of the world. I want to believe it all has something to do with the more universal issues at large. Death and dying is something that occurs everywhere. I write about fundamentals.
KF: I’m sure people ask you at readings and talks all the time for writing advice. Is there something you always tell those people?
KH: There are no secrets and no shortcuts, if you want to learn how to write you have to read as much as you can and write as much as you can. There’s no easy way to get there.
KF: Do you know what the next novel looks like? Any plans for down the road?
KH: I’m quite a ways from writing anything else. I’m in a gestation period. Hopefully, people [at the talk] will have read something I’ve written and have some idea of the type of writing I do.