Besides all of the literary accolades, awards and accomplishments that could encompass three or four lifetimes, Richard Bausch was a long time professor in the Creative Writing program at George Mason University, who along with Susan Shreve, built what is now a top-ranked MFA program. He currently teaches at The University of Memphis where he holds the Moss Chair of Excellence. He was at GMU (and always will be wherever he teaches) a tireless advocate of his students. Known for spending countless hours in the classroom and never shy of taking them all to the local bar to get to know each other better. Over a baked trout and a glass of wine, he would encourage and counsel scores of students in the MFA program. He never seemed to mind what genre someone worked under, or whether they had taken a class with him. He is committed to getting his students to know, to believe that their voices need to be heard and that the craft called them to a seat at his table. The interview took place between Alexis E. Santi and Richard Bausch corresponding over email.
— So how is life treating you? How is Memphis?
Memphis is a great town—lots to do, lots to see, southerly winds, pretty blossoms early, best music anywhere on the planet, good restaurants, galleries, gardens, playhouses, cafes; and the people are friendly.
Yep. It’s called RP Tracks. Four minute walk from Patterson Hall. They don’t have trout, though, or any fish on the menu. Good wine, though.
—So I hear you finished another novel, this is number ten, correct?
Ten, yes. Started another, too. Or went back to the one I was working on when I started THANKSGIVING NIGHT.
—Could you tell us a little bit about Thanksgiving Night?
I started it as a contemporary novel in 1999, but it took so damn long to finish, it’s a historical novel now. :-) It’s about several people in a Virginia town, who keep getting it wrong until they begin to get it right. I’m calling it a love comedy with sorrows.
—You’ve now completed 10 novels, another in progress and have six short story collections. Do you have trouble juggling the two; the novel and the short story form?
I’m usually always writing stories anyway—though I’ve gone a good two years now without writing one, which feels strange. I’m just now working on a couple, and beginning to feel my way into them again. HELLO TO THE CANNIBALS was such a long work, such an undertaking, that it ate up a lot of my impulse to do stories. And then this latest novel was composed during quite a bit of personal upheaval, and the time to work the shorter form just wasn’t there. It’s getting better now, and I’m hopeful about the coming months.
—What piece has given you the most trouble over the years, that you revised the most?
Well, over these years it was THANKSGIVING NIGHT, which took a lot of re-writing and re-casting. But all of it is hard to do. Wouldn’t be worth doing if it was easy.
—Ourstories.us is a website that allows committed writers to grow from the review process. Our staff, the readers, who are doing their MFAs, advise and counsel writers when their work doesn’t make it into print. Keeping this revision process in mind, I was wondering if you could say something about your own revision process and how it has developed over the years?
Oh, I just keep reading it and writing it and reading it and writing it, over and over. It’s just educating myself about it, getting smarter and smarter as to what it is, where its real heart is, where it matters most, and then trying to make it as clear and as unobtrusively involving as I can.
—You did your MFA at Iowa, did you grow close to the other writers in the program at the time? No, that’s not what I want to ask. Was there a sense of camaraderie and commitment to each other’s work? No, that’s not it either. I guess what I’m trying to ask is, did you have say, TC Boyle in your corner, going “I damn well liked his story!” arguing tooth and nail with Alan Gurganus, and then get coffee and argue with Jane Smiley over the finer points of so-and-so’s short story?
Not really. We did meet a couple of times in wildcat workshops, and we would occasionally show each other work. But mostly it was just being involved in each other’s lives. I didn’t really know Tom Boyle then—though he was still in Iowa at the time. He’d finished the workshop when I arrived. I was in classes with Allan Gurganus, though, and Jane Smiley—her name was Jane Whiston then. We had fun.
—Did you ever, at the time, look around the room and say, “Damn, this is the future of American letters?”
Not really. We were all just hell-bent on writing something
good, and on reading everything that had ever been written that WAS good.
I think that whatever effectiveness I have as a teacher comes mostly from remembering well how it felt—and what misconceptions I was subject to—when I was a student.
—What comes to mind when I say the word: “doubt”?
Misconceptions about the task. It’s hard. It’s hard for a reason. Nobody ever did it with much ease who was any good at it.
—You’ve been published everywhere: in Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, GQ, The New Yorker and plenty of others. Could you say a little bit about the first? What was the first one for you, where that short story got into print and let you know that you weren’t just railing all night alone? The first that cracked the door open and you could see the light?
First story in a magazine that paid real money was in The Atlantic Monthly, back in the spring of 1983. The April issue, a story called “All The Way in Flagstaff, Arizona.” It was actually a late chapter of a failing novel—what I had to write to get that story. I left it out of THE STORIES OF… because I had grown a little tired of it over the years. Fact is, there were seven or eight stories I left out of that book.
—What’s next on your desk that you're working on?
Couple stories—one called “One Afternoon in the History of Love” that I think might end up being a novella. I love the form, though it’s nearly impossible to publish them except in a book.
like to close with something I love hearing you talk about, something
we’ve often discussed, could you describe your perfect writing night?
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