Award-Winning Author Andre Dubus III on Writing the Memoir



afternoon everyone nice to see you all two announcements before we begin at the end of the lecture when we have the reception in the gallery if you're from town and you're not on our mailing list they'll be this clipboard where you can put your name and email address we'd like to let you know about future events okay second and very important if you have a cell phone or a smartphone did you turn it off now it's really really good to see everyone here and really good to see Andre here it's nice to have you on this afternoon for the last of our inspiring history shaping the future lecture series having unranked Abuse the third here to close out the series is like having an ice cream sundae after a great meal and now I'm going to put a cherry on top of that sundae for my SBC cab jump professor and write of Megan Mayhew Bergman will read from her recently published work book of short stories called birds of Alessa paradise one month from today on May 3rd same time same place there'll be more information about it but you might want to mark that down for me this is the best collection of short stories I've read since dancing after hours which is a marvelous collection of stories by Andres father so you don't want to miss Megan and I don't think she's in the audience today she may come to the reception afterwards today's special for a lot of reasons and I'd like to acknowledge another friend of the college and form a clinical nursing professor the write up Kevin O'Hara Kevin spoke about his first book the last of the donkey pilgrims as part of my lecture series two years ago in his most recent book I have a lucky Irish lad is an extremely enjoyable and honest account of his life growing up in Pittsfield now for Andra it's good to bring someone from my neck of the woods the east coast of New England here to this beautiful place in the west coast of New England I'm from Lawrence the smallest in area of the three mill cities in the Merrimack Valley my dress from Haverhill of course and works in Lowell held in 1842 by Charles Dickens when he came to Lowell as the world's model industrial city and still today larger than either Cairo or Lawrence here's a fun fact you all this year we celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens I'm not going to repeat what's in the program sheet you received when you entered the theater today about Andre but I'm gonna relate to you four instances in which I came to know Andre as a generous role model a terrific speaker in a powerful writer in first about ten years ago when Andre was invited to speak at Riviera College where I was working at the time and I break came to a meeting of faculty and administrators he'll remember that prior to the opening convocation at which you would speak it wasn't long after a House of Sand and Fog had been made into a major motion picture starring Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly what impressed everyone was Andres declaration that he wouldn't be speaking to impress faculty or administrators he told us that he likes to speak to young people because he knew firsthand almost predicting the contact of townie how easy it is to go in a way that is not healthy my brain told us that he thought it was important for young people to hear from those who have gone before them and have been tested temptations and the dangers around us second when he did speak at the Riviera in convocation he told the story about I think it was a family gathering he went to not long after House of Sand and Fog gained notoriety at the gathering he was greeted by one of those there who might have been a little bit depressed about his situation and who said to Andrei something like now you now that you've made it big you won't need to work anymore Dondre told everyone that he was incredulous because he loved writing and then he gave his message to the students which was do the thing that makes you happier than anything else in the world do the thing that makes you happier than anything else in the world third when he accepted the invitation to speak at our commencement in 2009 we decided to give our graduating students his latest book at that time the Gaiden of last days not only did I play a sign every one of those books but he took the time to address each graduating student personally in his inscriptions and fourth when he addressed the graduates in May of 2009 he told them to face the adversity of our economy in foreign affairs the two wars we were embroiled in and to learn from it becomes Fondren and to go on to make a difference in the world by doing those things that bring joy to our fund write those things are writing and giving them his time to teach others the lessons he's learned whether he's writing about a fact the fabulous and underappreciated authors like he does in the introduction to this novel the hair of Harold Ruth by Thomas Williams a vignette you probably will recall from reading townie or answering students questions of honestly and robustly like he did this past summer when one of my students asked him this question did writing townie make you feel happy that you've come so far or was it hard and emotional to relive some tough moments well I'd be working in my soundproof writing cave in my basement answer then take a short break to walk upstairs to the kitchen for more coffee after having imagined through written memory a low-income and trying past I'd step into this new and spacious house I built with my bare hands for my wife and kids and me and I'd shake my head at where my life has taken me I'd say a prayer of deep gratitude for myself some coffee then head back down to my cave where I knew I'd have to cut back into old wounds again for the most part because so many years have passed since my youth this wasn't so painful and other times like my dad's death it was this is the kind of honesty and generosity you get when you read and hear and read abuse and this is what you'll get today please welcome my friend and SPC's friend I read abused the third thank you well thank goodness well I've got two mics if you're like god I mean wow is this just love for you as it is for me as a client okay I'll thank you in it's a it's a joy and an honor to be back you know and thank you for inviting me Provost assist you like Brenda out from Lawrence mass so my favorite part of this getting up in front of people's stuff is I really and I don't mind lecturing and reading talks and reading I like reading my work out loud but not for too long because I like that Q&A and I know that when I go to a reading or a talk it's my favorite car to in the audience when we get tagged to have a conversation and we don't just sit there and no matter how good a speaker might be I think the fun parts that conversation so I'm gonna take you said we have five hours I'm gonna take four hours I'm taking about twenty eight point nine minutes and then let's spend the rest of time in a conversation I think it goes by too fast if you don't mind all right so I should tell you I mean those of you who haven't read tiny or know much about me or if I mainly a fiction writer I've been doing this my whole adult life and I just love writing I love how hard it is I love how like right now I had the most beautiful drive out here al I'm so glad I got lost in walking directions because I'm driving through the walk not listening Lucinda Williams and outcast because my kids left it in my truck in and I'm and I'm you know I'm between I'm between stories I finished a novella a few like five weeks ago and getting ready to write a new one which is my new book I hope to finish this year and and I'm just beginning to see the first scene and so as I'm driving I'm listening to this music and I'm looking the mountains and the boulders and the rocks and you know the small little houses like I grew up in and I and I just I just want to quickly get to my desk and descend into the dream world see one of the things I find so moving about human beings and is that we all have an imagination you know I was in a book club one of these city book clubs which is really a lovely thing to happen to a writer the whole town read your book and they put you in a theater they all come and talk about it I remember singing California did that for me and I thought on the flight back the five dollar flight back to the east I had this weird bad taste in my mouth what's not to like they just they flew you out there they they read all these people read your book you sign books for like six hours you you know got a great steak and a vodka martini either I mean what's not to like and I realized what it was there was this sort of a subtle energy in the theater of all we lowly readers bow down to you imaginative writers they're so grateful to you for having imagination so you write these books we get to read and it just doesn't it doesn't it doesn't square with what I know about people because all you have to do is have kids or have been a kid yourself to know that every kid gets an imagination every kid gets one you know I've been teaching writing for 20-something years now I think I've probably taught 7 to 8,000 young and not so young writers and and through that experience I've concluded that not only does everybody get an imagination I don't think anybody's is any better than anybody else's that's not to suggest if some people don't come up with more interesting stuff than others because we know it's the case but I don't think that's the fault the imagination think it's the fault of the writing tools and how we get into the imagination that God keeps all of us or the universe whatever you want to call what brings us into this world all right so there's a wonderful line in the writer for your O'Connor from her essay the nature name of fishing I love this she says there is a certain grain of stupidity the writer can they do about I'll repeat that there is a certain grade of stupidity the writer can hardly do without and that is the quality of having to stay so I think one of the central things I find myself saying and writing classes and I think I'll say until I'm no longer on this planet writers don't know what the hell we're doing which is the fun of it whenever I've tried to outline a story whenever I've set out to say something even an essay or a book review certainly a novel or a short story or a poem or a novella whenever I've set out to say something I strongly I I may have said one thing honestly but I've learned over the years if I just surrender to what's coming and allow it to come in its full force I will say fifteen things and I'm only conscious or maybe half of two which would be one well uh we've Faulkner was asked late his life mr. Parker what's the main thing that the writer new syrup in order to have a shot at creating the kind of art you have serve with words he said well it ain't Talent he said I used to think it was talent but I don't think so anymore well I said well what is it what do you think he said he narrowed it down to one quality of mind we think it is imagination is certainly he would agree without without this quality of mind you cannot fuel the imagination think of think the imagination is the car and this quality of mind is the gas persevere oh gold stop that dude yeah perseverance notice that perseverance a few of you he said he talked about that a lot of talk about diligence perseverance endurance and he's right because he do fall out of love with what you're writing very soon and just like marriage you continue we all know what we're saying know the romance waxes and wanes and then marriage is a job description being married as you've married people know it's not a state of being I always tell young people especially guys at bachelor parties being a husband isn't just like a title it's a job description and you're gonna be expected to do them whether you feel like it or not for the rest of your life and she has a list of tasks too when the same goes for her and actually I think it's a beautiful thing and I think it makes for a strong marriage and by the way I've been happily married for 24 years all right so so curiosity his exact quote was curiosity inside tumult and to muse why it is that man does what he does and if you have that then talent makes no difference whether you've got it or not I could not agree more and I've seen it everyone have time to talk about this with my students but I've seen it with my students the ones who've gone on to publish books produce movies make movies write poems plays they're the ones who are frankly the pains in the acident in the class okay what the same things like wait a minute didn't she have her umbrella open so why's her glasses wet in the shop she had the umbrella woman why would they be wet wait a minute she had a groceries in one hand what all these really irritating students they're the ones who went on to produce all his work and I would submit you because they want any more times with me other people in the room but they couldn't shut off their curiosity we actually say that we'll read an interesting is clearing the newspaper about it you know man Lee's wife takes all nine dogs drops each one off and a Home Depot parking lot all the way to New Jersey I mean go read something like that Harold and you're saying people actually say oh honey can you imagine the actually we actually use that expression and we go in fact I can't cup stop thinking about those damn dogs why nine dogs why need take him why the Home Depot parking lot why do you drop each one off what kind of a car would he have to drive to hold my dog why not so this little memoir you know it came from this scene from my life my brother and I my brothers took the family genus he's just he taught himself when he was 13 years old everyone how to play classical guitar ba preludes on the guitar by listening to a record player one of these guys he designed my huge house getting all the plumbing chases and electrical things right and all the live load dead load without any study of architecture he's one of these guys when we're a little for birthday birthday so you could guitar strings you know canvases paints I get underwear so my brother design mouse and his over a quarter magic wand I'm like my third book was about the sixth I've written I had money for the first time I was in my early 40s and I was gonna build the first home I would ever live in with I'll in work my parents never owned a house we were growing up I never owned a house my wife never owned a house not a big problem this is a first world problem I have landlords for the first almost five decades of their life so now we're building a house and it's more of a big deal to me than I realized with no film it was really such a beautiful review I recommend it you know we we did it all we framed it we did everything except the electrical and employment so we're about six months in we're still no no no we're about six weeks and we're still framing and I'm hiring some young guys with the labor that day and at the coffee break they're talking baseball and my brother was in his 46:10 off this cigarette and says seriously he's like 43 so what there's an American League International League I said yeah I think so well that sounds like the same thing what's that about really no one I didn't really know the truth is somehow my brother and I missed all these sports with balls and proximity and we grew up north of Boston and Red Sox Nation Patriots nation Celtics nation burns nation I didn't know all four of those teams till about ten years ago my brother today even though he couldn't tell you who Tom Brady user heaven equals so how did this happen so meanwhile as your parents know whatever your kids get into you get into they get into bubs to become a bug expert they dinosaurs you can say Michael Pachycephalosaurus right so my kids got into all that but then like regular boys we have a son daughter son Austin ariadne lives there now 19 16 14 but when they were little my boys got into baseball like a lot of normal American boys they got on a tee ball and then see ball with the coach pitches then bball when the kids start to pitch and right around bball they're like eight or nine I notice that the coaches are kind of like Marine Corps drill instructors and I remember my son Austin was a pitcher he's still a pitcher and it was the championship you know whatever the playoffs and one of the coaches who had a shaved head like a drill instructor weighed about 260 pounds is yelling to about a 42 pounds hit on the mound on his team I don't want nothing but strikes to me you hear me not get my strikes you're thinking hey Jo Martinez doesn't throw so the following year I volunteered to be a baseball coach to protect my son forgetting I didn't know how I can it be a hit you're running you catch you no score so it had a lot of moments like this where you know we'd be doing a game and I go right Bobby everybody oh you can't come back you're out I'm sorry Bobby so I thought I might write the first funny fate of my life I'm gonna write an essay about baseball and the question back again back to farmers curiosity the question fueling the essay is how in the hell did I miss baseball's just by the way I love this board I watched like 80 games a year i man we're going to Finland like three weeks and as my son gets back from college in behind work going I'm a past and I take my shirt off I paint myself car I'm like nothing is a sports fan I still don't really know all the rules so so I was as I was writing this essay by the way I had a contract with my publisher to deliver a collection of personal message that I've written a few over the years and it's a beautiful form and I really loved it and this essay was I thought kind of asked the question how did I miss be missing baseball me normally you know in America the mythic story is you know your father the father throws to the boys the boys learn that way to become fans but how is it that my son's taught me baseball instead that way around so a hundred and fifty pages later five hundred pages later I realized it wasn't right at an essay and instead I was writing about what I was doing instead of playing games like probably five 56.2% of you sadly in this room you come from a broken home I think it's almost 57% in this culture so we all know divorce we actually throw that term around lightly like oh yeah she's from a broken home like oh yeah she's got brown eyes we all know it hurts we know that some marriages must in some are really toxic and divorce can be good but it always hurts it hurts everybody we always know we know that I think frankly it gets too minimized in our culture especially to the kids so so my parents divorced about nine years after marriage they had a loaf from southern Louisiana Mary when they're 19 and 18 and my dad joined the Marines he goes to our Writers Workshop he turns into his is al talked about a little baby became the master short story right around read abuse my father well when they were young it didn't work out I think now actually if they got married when they're a little older or an or if the 60s hadn't hit right when they got married with all the you know experimentation with social mores and all of the upheaval socially of the 60s they may have actually survived as a marriage but they didn't they got divorced my father moved to grab her where was teaching a Bradford junior college which became Bradford College which sadly went belly-up a few years ago after 20-something years and what happened to my mom happens to too many married people now I actually see it in my own generation and I'm sure I'm sure you have to we're here you know all these people are friends with the marriage they've been friends with them for years the marriage ends and then all the friends rally around one and dump the other it's bizarre to me I see it happening all the time I try not to do it but I think I've done it with one or two couples and so here so here my mother by the way was a beauty pageant winner from south Louisiana she was also instilled as smart articulate poetic charming charismatic likes up the room my father also lights up the room and but everybody dumped my beautiful mother for my beautiful father she's also from southern Louisiana and her third-grade educated father my grandfather was a pipe fitter Elmer Lamar Lowell who we called tapping he said there ain't been no divorces in this family and if this don't work out you ain't coming home so didn't even occur to her to go back home Louisiana so my father at the time in late 60 was making seven thousand dollars a year seven now that was a lot more than than it is now but it still wasn't much for four kids a rented house a car clothes food with all that stuff we all know well so now the $7,000 has to support not only his new apartment and his new $100 car but all of us so we went from poor to over the way a lot of families do we get divorced who are already financially strapped but also I have to say we were part of this social class we don't talk a lot about in this culture too we were the educated looking for my mother went back to school first we got worked as a nurse's aide and waitress worked her way through school quickly got a degree where the big money is in the social services and so even though my mother was educated my father was educated I couldn't I grew up in poor neighborhoods because we had no money so I'm gonna stop talking to my read about 13 minutes the accidental memoir that rose from that baseball essay begins in 1970 I guess right now I think it's 1973 I was 14 years old in 73 and think all you need to know is my sister Suzanne older sister sazon younger brother Jeff little sister Nicole and this is Haverhill math right down the river from Lawrence in Elvises you on the other side of the river was Bradford it's where a lot of jocks at the high school lived the kids who wore corduroys and sweaters and look to clean it's where houses have big green lawns it's where the college was were pop talk it's where he lived in an apartment building with Theo metropolis and his friend Dave supple a writer too since leaving our mother pop had lived in a few places but we rarely saw them and never slept there years later I would hear my father say the divorce had left him dating his children that still meant picking us up every Sunday for a matinee and if he had the money in early dinner somewhere for a few years now he was taking us to church too he'd pull up in his rusted out Lancer and drive us to Mass at Sacred Hearts in Bradford Square the five of us who walked down the aisle between the crowded pews Jeff and I were there long hair actually to our waists Suzanne and her tight hip huggers Nicole and her brace she now wore for scoliosis pop or the only men in church not wearing a jacket or tie he refused to put money in the collection basket too many times I'd hear him say you think Jesus ever wore a time did Jesus spend money on buildings one night you were still living at the doctor's house one of us give me just interruption one of the first houses my mom ran in this town used to be a doctor's office at least once a week we latchkey kids would be lying on the floor watching our 500 hours of bad TV and someone would walk right into the living room sit down and most people saw right away no plastic plants and no receptionist and it was filthy in there you know magazines all over the place and depressed kids watching Gilligan's Island got one guy sat down grab the paper off the floor his jacket and tie and you know finally he looked up and said this is the doctor's office it no he won't that's the only funny moment the holding of books that's one night we're still live at the doctor's house I heard mom on the phone trying to convince pop that he should start taking on each of us one at a time did he was never gonna know us as individual people if he didn't I don't know if I cared then about that or not but a cool sweat broke out of my forehead just thinking about being alone with pot I've never been alone with him what would I say what we talk about what we do when my mom got off the phone she said I can't believe it your father says we'll be too shy with each of you he's scared of his own kids this made me feel better and worse but every Wednesday night he'd drive up to the house and take one of us back to his apartment across the river it was on the third floor of an old brick building covered with ivy across the street was the Bradford green lawn and trees and a gazebo and he could see it from his bedroom where his bed was always made and there were shelves of books and his black wooden desk I remember from when he used to live with us its surface clean and organized notebook stacked neatly beside his typewriter beside his humidor and pipe stand six or eight of them each with a white pipe cleaner sticking out of the mouthpiece in his small kitchen we'd cook something pasta and a quick tomato sauce and garlic bread we warmed in the oven maybe a bacon and cheese omelet this was something I look forward to the most it seemed I was hungry all the time at home across the river unless Bruce had given our mother a new check Bruce's my mother's boyfriend of many years but he had seven kids of his own and soft possum unless Bruce had given our mother a new check something he was able to do less and less now there just wasn't much food in the house breakfast was usually a coke and pleasant spa bought with change we found in our mother's purse order the cushions of our to couch when other kids filed into the cafeteria we didn't have the money so drifted out back where the pothead stood on the grates too cool to sit with the others passing a pipe around a bag of potato chips – Suzanne was selling dope one afternoon I stuck my head in her bedroom door and when she and she was sitting on her mattress with Glenn P rolling dozens of joints from a garbage bag full of Mexican goal Edgar Winter was playing on her record player kids at school walked up to her with a hungry look in their eyes and my sister had cash and after school she sometimes buy us some potato chips and cokes and candy bars our first real meal of the day when mom got home from work and close to 8 o'clock she'd open a can of SpaghettiOs her stew for us and heated up on the stove sometimes she'd fry a spam or make that Frito pie too tired to do much else – broke to buy much else and Bruce didn't cook he drank bourbon in the kitchen with her and talked about the new job he had in Boston doing the same thing she was getting slum Lords to rid their buildings of that pink she'd nod her head moving quickly in her work clothes a far-off look in her eyes as if she was trying to put back together how her life had taken her here to this this mill town this canned food she never would have used when she was first married these four hungry depressed teenagers this hovering man who wasn't their father those Wednesday nights at Pop's apartment waiting to eat he probably asked me questions about my life school homework friends what I remember it's been like a liar and a fake I'd be in a t-shirt and jeans I had washed earlier so they wouldn't smell like dope I probably told him I was getting good grades mostly B's which miraculously I was but I left out that I regular skiff skipped half my classes slept late and didn't go to school several days a month that I was flunking algebra because it was the first class of the morning when I was most high then Jeb and I and our friend Cleary spin our afternoons looking for house party where we could get a free bus or would be downtown one of the shops usually the Army and Navy store distracting the man behind the register so clear he could stuff a t-shirt or a pair of socks or wool cap down his pants sometimes we call the cops on ourselves yeah one of us would lower his voice report kids throwing eggs at houses and we given the street then run there with eggs in our pockets and as soon as we saw the cruiser we felt it and run one time a cop stuck his head out the window and shouted ostrich ooh miles we were thinking so inappropriate for uniform please the uniformed police officer that's wearing us kid so a few years later I thought it's kind of inappropriate to shoot him too we ended up down by the river and stand on the railroad trestle over the swirling brown water below Benny who had the balls to stay on the longest before the train came and what would be worse getting hit by the Boston and Maine or having to jump into the Merrimack River or you'd probably be poisoned to death before you drown there were girls in these neighborhoods who just gave it away one was Janice woods who had 15 had cropped blond hair and breasts and hips and liked to walk up to guys and stick her fingers down their pants just so she could feel them get hard in her hand lately she's been coming around spending afternoons with Jeff in his room I could have told my father about her or her father Darryl woods who my mother got to know from her work somehow he was short and wore tight jeans and motorcycle boots his mustache thinking blonde one night he and my mother went out for a drink at the VFW off Monument Square they were sitting on stools at the bar on a muscular kid with a long ponytail walked in and asked Darryl for a light Woods looked him over and told him to get lost the kid push them in Darryl woods through a short right into his face and dropped him it was winter and when I got up for school the next morning the house still dark the hallway lit up Darryl woods sleeping on the work of couch in the living room he was snoring his arm over his eyes and I could see the dried blood and stitches in his forearm for his risk to his elbow after their drink my mother and Darrell had gotten back into our car a used red Toyota mom said she just started up when that same muscled kid with the ponytail ran up to her side of the car and yell duck lady then he threw a Molotov cocktail past her face at woods in the passenger side the bottle smashing against his raised forearm glass and gasoline spraying over them both but the fuse had gone out my mother was flooring it down shifting and swearing the kid in the street behind them swearing back the inside of the car smelled like gas for weeks one March afternoon at a day party down on 7th Cleary and I'm taking the joint pass to us in the loud smoking noise a couple of rent collectors told us to beat it and before we could stand and go they yanked us up and pushed us down the stairs they kicked open the door and shoved us onto the plywood porch then off it into the mud I remember clearly saying come on Rick you wouldn't do nothing come on and Ricky J who months later would get stabbed in the same apartment he was kicking us out of punched clearly in the face his head snapping back a whimper coming out of him as Kenny V shouldered me up against the porch then without a word started throwing punches into my chest and ribs and arms I covered up and he smacked me in the forehead in the temple and I raised my hands and anyone to work on my body but he wasn't hitting as hard as clay Waylon had and a voice in my head said this is it this is all I nearly clenched my fists and started punching back but they both carried buck knives and the one wailing on Cleary Ricky J was on top of him now punching him over and over in the head then it was done they were on the porch breathing hard looking down at us clear he was just getting to his feet blood dripping from one eye in between his teeth Ricky J lit up a cigarette and flicked a match over our heads no more motors now scroll before we're even to the street clear he started laughing he turned and yell lose us and we up the hill and across Main Street and down the alley to his house and mother there were the Murphy brothers four of them they drive up to house parties they didn't know anyone walk in drink what they wanted smoke what they wanted eat what they want to grab the but her breasts of any girl or woman nearby and if anybody ever said anything to them about it or even looked at them wrong they'd jump him right there four of them on one Dennis was the youngest he was tall and had dirty blonde curly hair and a cracked front tooth it was a warm afternoon in April or May and jebin Cleary and I were walking back from Round Pond a reservoir where there were woods and you could find kids smoking dope there in the trees or passing tall boys around in front of a fire so somebody called the cops or the fire department and you'd run and not look back that afternoon Cleary taught us how to get high just by breathing deep and fast for a full minute then have someone put you in a bear hug and squeeze do you feel your brain float up and fizz off the top of your head I was afraid to do it it seemed dangerous to me bathroo heart but I watched Jeb squeeze Cleary and dump them in the pine needles where he lay a long time his eyes closed his mouth open when he came to he was pale but he smiled and said that was boss that was so friggin boss we're on the sidewalk close to Monument Square there's a sub shop there between a drugstore and convenience store sometimes the owners tossed out of pizza or sub nobody ever picked up for take-out and we find him in the dumpster out back still warming in the box or wrapped tightly and white deli paper hey it was Dennis Murphy he ran across the street and fell in step with us as if we knew him as if we were friends doesn't hang him sucking any heart we never stopped walking and he walked with us he had a like pine branch in his hand half long and he was slapping it against his palm as he walked my heart was beating fast my mouth had gone gummy we were getting close to the square the gas stations and shops cars driving around the statue of the Union soldier in the middle of the asphalt an old woman was walking in our direction on the sidewalk ahead of us she was short and small her hair was white even though the air was warm she wore a thin coat button to the top then she carried to full grocery bags one in each arm I started to move to the side I remember hoping Murphy wouldn't say anything about sucking hogs we passed her her eyes have been on the concrete on where her was crap where it was heaved and buckled but now she looked up at us and she seemed to pull her groceries in tighter none of us moved to the side to the nearly step in the street as we passed and that's when Murphy flicked his branch out and slapped her face her eyes blinking and tearing up and he kept walking we all kept walking clear he laughed like he thought it was funny when I knew he didn't I don't remember what Jeff said or did but I did nothing the old woman was yelling something at us I could hear this shock in her voice the outrage she said something about the police and her dead husband she yelled I hope you're proud of yourselves their voice tremulous and to walk beside Dennis Murphy for even another heartbeat felt like poison to my own blood but I kept walking in my business with talk once a month I could have told him that story or the others but why would I thank you I'm gonna do something embarrassing but I have to this young lady is texting in the back you have to stop and I hate to publicly humiliate you but we live in very rude times and I have done 150 readings last year and a half and this country is addicted to its guests and I'm sure you may have a very good reason for doing it and I really hate to do it I'm the guest in this home she's probably a student here I'm sure she's a lovely woman but it's a real compulsion and you know III introduce a good friend of mine who's in his fifties to an elderly lady friend of mine and while she was staying alone to him he was checking a test we've all become there's a wonderful article about this by the way by a guy named Alan Kirby in philosophy now you can get it online he says we're all the trends so anyway I don't feel terrible to say this to publicly really you're like that but it takes a village to raise a child when I have to speak up all right now moving along just a few more just another minute above this quote so in a scene or two after that I am I described a grown man coming back from the Army on the expression I beat up my younger brother who was 13 and he want to come home beat him up because my brother was probably having sex with his 12 year old sister which was normal in this neighborhood I lost my virginity at 13 Joe was 11 my sister was late at 14 this was the early 70s that's one of the things I was exploring this book the complete breakdown of social mores and how we were wild feral children fathers went around mothers were overwhelmed and anyway so this 20 year old man comes home beats up my brother in front of me can't defend you know I think I pleaded and then he know threatened to kill me and I just stood there praying for it to be over as a freshman in high school I was 5 foot 1 112 pounds my oldest son as a sophomore in high school 6 to 270 with size 15 shoe squats 500 pounds plays football he's who I wanted to be I don't know who the father is but I'm raising my younger son who's a rock'n'roll drummer alive six freshmen high school 6 1 190 thank God my daughter's little thing but so I won't say the whole book but I will just end with this and let's have a conversation the time of meeting I snapped after you get up my brother I walked into the house I was 14 years old I looked at my face I went to the bathroom which them in the mirror in my face tonight I told my 14 year old face I don't care if you get killed I don't care if you get stabbed and shot I don't care you're never gonna not fight back ever again that night he's starting to push ups and sit ups are beginning to look weights I began to box much to my surprise not would I have athletic ability I had boxing talent and I develop a knockout punch I never got big but I got hard to strong and but 18 months later my brother and I were in a bar down town on the river where you know anybody could go in we didn't we were probably 17 18 or 60 in a local thug pushed my little brother down the stairs and I knocked his two front teeth down his world with one punch and it felt so good I did it for the next 11 12 years and I'm not suggesting for a second that was good I think if the book is about anything it's about hopefully if it a play when I worked really hard on trying to do in this book is to not romanticize violence I wanted the opposite of romanticizing violence the only filmmaker in this country well I think does violence well is Quinton is um Martin Scorsese because when you see good fellows or especially Raging Bull and you see that scene where pressure little brother gets beaten up by his big brother Jake LaMotta played by De Niro at the Sunday dinner in front of the kids it is messy it is ugly it is so awfully destructive and negative and wrong as a way to control my violence please give me don't don't misunderstand I never went picking on anyone because I hated bullies I hated cruelty he did injustice I go to a bar a way for some guy and he care how big he was to his girlfriend his wife and I try to film in Austin years later and actually I was here with Garden last days a few years ago one of the characters of my novel regarded last days is a she is one of the composite one of the hijackers from Saudi Arabia and you know when I began writing I thought well I have nothing in common with this guy wrong as I was writing I realized I felt a real kinship in a way that disturbed me because I – at one point in my life welcome death and didn't care if I died at all because my self-hatred had plummeted so I risen so high in my self-esteem and plumbing so low I was embraced death before I would endure being calling endure my own reflection of myself being a coward I couldn't do it but I knew I was in a very bad road the violence as violence always does escalated he got more intense and I'm not a big bad guy I am but I was a dangerous young man because of what I just described to you I knew I was going to get killed by a much meaner scarier guy or I was going to end up in prison for killing someone else both things almost happened to go into that in the book as a way to control my violence then I said well box you're supposed to punch people in that sport and so I'll do that and in one night and frankly this scene makes me believe in God or certainly mysteries certainly the divine certainly things that we can't see that are at work which is the constant surprise to me is I was in my sweats prepared I was trained for the golden gloves down low I was very gung-ho about doing it I had my AAU number I was a few weeks away from competing as a middleweight something made me sit down at my little tiny kitchen table in Lynn Massachusetts brew some tea grab a notebook and a pencil and start to write a scene I had no intention of writing I had very little exposure to even though my father was a writer had very little exposure to that and although there was I can tell you about leaders and it wasn't a very good scene there's a wonderful line from Gustave Flaubert a French writer he says a bad book comes in sincerely from a writer's soul was a good one yeah since Sarah he's not know it was a very sincere scene that was awful but I didn't care because I was writing trying to write from the point of view of a young woman losing her virginity on the foot of a Pontiac in the misty Maine woods comfortable honey I thought they're writing 10 minutes and when I finished my tea which was boiling hot was room temperature and and more importantly for me I was in this higher state of awareness that writing has given me the last 30 years I just I could see the room more clearly for the first time I could see the linoleum was loose underneath the radiator and the radiator was crooked I never noticed that duct tape around the refrigerator handling and a few months later I finished my first short story which is abysmal but I didn't care because I felt more like Andre for the first time in my life I just felt like to me and I hadn't known I was almost 22 years old I hadn't known that I had any feeling like me this is why I'm always telling young people this thing I cannot tell you how blessed I feel never mind the incredible blessings of publishing career and have made money and providing my family doing I love that's a blessing enough the deeper blessing for me though is since I was a 22 year old kid which is exactly 30 years ago to 52 I've been doing consistently in daily that thing that makes me feel more like me Thomas Williams whose novel you alluded to – well the hair of hill Harold roof by the way you haven't read it it won the National Book Award in 1975 Thomas Williams is one of these writers writers and all writers know about but very few people have read and it's a crime so get it if you get a chance to read the hair of Harold room Williams's ask mr. Williams why you're right he says well that's easy I write so I don't die before I'm dead so I'm going in with this conversation time remaining I apologize anyway in a great letter to the editor at Scribner as Maxwell Perkins said you know max the writer's job is not to judge but to seek to understand I don't think Hemingway was suggesting that writers are less judgmental anybody else we know it could be a judgmental sob and he'd be the first to tell you I think what he was suggesting is my father is written about this in a beautiful essay years ago is it at the desk they're writing if you're trying to write this character driven honest stuff that I try to write must demand the higher parts of you you must be less judgmental you must be more patient you must be more tolerant you must be more merciful you must be really you must summon all those Lincolnesque better angels Indonesia I'm not suggesting for a second if you want to be a better human being be a creative writer because I've met some real SOPs in this field I am suggesting though that I could not once I began writing fiction do that daily morning after writing fiction trying to enter the private skin of another as a woman who said one and then that night punch them in the face that's my story I'm sticking to it thank you you know I think I've been listening to the Leonard old intercom lately if you read the Leonard Cohen song we all have cracks that's how the light gets in in that great yeah and then there's this wonderful line from Khalil Gibran let me get it right joy grief carbs our crucible in which joy is healthy and then the French writer Leona Lewis says this and I just quote this all the time man has places in his heart which do not yet exist and then to them into suffering in order that they may have existence the truth is and you know that I did not just actually two or three weeks ago a friend's brother was in his 60s and grew up in Worcester in a really tough way to sent me a lovely email about this book and he pointed out the willpower and discipline that I had in changing my body and I could and I fir you know I was consciously trying to show change in my body but I wasn't while writing this conscious of I never had ever had the word will playing in my head I had workouts in my hands sit-ups push-ups bench presses running six our own workouts all this crazy stuff I did a thousand sit-ups it took three hours to my lower back was bleeding all this was fueled by deep self loathing deep sufferings I look at my son my oldest son both my sons are Golden Boy athletes and they've got these beautiful muscular physique sand and my oldest son especially as a real work ethic in the gym I'll see I'll see you know on the on the sixth rep he's really hurting and it'll get like ten more and I said Austin man I'm just so impressed with your work ethic and I'm a little surprised because for me what was fueling me was fear I was always afraid and I was and I really just I mean you know hurting on the fourth rep I get like eight more but it was I was always had images of you know so I could fight and survive but he's had a new upper-middle class sheltered existence private high school two parents married his whole life cars start right up house you know 60-inch break-in TVs by the way they have all these gadgets when I tell them to to turn them off when they're talking to me so to answer your question I it's only in the last few weeks what's your first name Kathy so one day last year weeks that I've had the insight that Wow what a gift look at look at the oyster what a gift my suffering has been look at the oyster we all know how pearls get made if you don't sand comes in to the shell it's an irritant to the oyster the oyster wraps mucus around it to eventually expel it thereby making a problem so the irritant turns into a pearl for me my violent scary seemingly adult 'less wandering feral wild child youth gave birth to a discipline in me that saved my life but mainly because it led to an artistic discipline it led me on to passive compassion that's working yeah okay sir that you friends and your family action to being included like Nicole seemed like she was the one that was sort of the farthest away and what was their reaction after the book came out yeah you're nailing the most difficult part that remains for me the most difficult part there right I said Jeff and I I know I'm not the only one in this room who's written about his or her life what's your first name sir charlie he writes question right so I'll back off so writing this I remember years ago I read a quote by some writer who said look if you're gonna write new moi you should be able to sue yourself for libel and the only one I read was to buy slow this boy's life and he ever read that you really should because it's a beautiful tale so honestly told Tobias most a great short story where and he grew up with a single mother just the two of them and very early on the book begins with the truck going off a cliff in the trucker getting killed and the mother turning to Toby and say oh and she can see just how worried she was about him that they saw a man dying in his head he tells the reader I knew was a good time to make a play for souvenirs right off when it was a manipulative little and because he never lets himself off the hook you trust him implicitly to tell you the truth the rest of the ball well I'm getting that is Charlie's I felt another enough years have passed that I could write I felt pretty sick he or I could write honestly about all mine all my stuff I couldn't I don't think 15 years ago I could ever have read out loud about not defending him an old lady you've got a branch in the face like ten years ago I made not a video will be public about evening but now I'm uh I'm thirty years older than that fourteen kid I wanna hug I feel fatherly towards the kid I was and I feel sorry Foreman I don't judge me um so back to your question about the family so I wrote the first draft and naively assume well I'm just this is my little me more it's a freak as I'm looking there's a writer on a panel once said about me she says I hate memoize I call them mean words we can get back to that issue because they can't you misunderstands but I said I can write out it's tell me about me I won't have to write about my family and of course how does that happen you know this lady laughed a lot before you stupid yes I was so I finished the draft and I give to my publisher and she says well you know I don't know much about your family life but it seems to me you're not going into certain details in the house he lived in I left out yeah then my brother's being sexually abused by a girl woman from age 13 to 19 they was suicidal and attended it many times my sister was gang-raped and selling drugs by the sister was so isolated it was you know probably pathological my mother is overwhelmed and holding on with her fingertips and pretty much giving up and my father wasn't around and that was just the beginning but I didn't want to violate their privacy especially my brother sex abuse and suicidal ideation is pretty damn personal and that's his doing but a friend of mine said yeah but how can you write your story and leave that that's part of your story your little brother wants to die you can't stop him but it was a real tough quandary right and I have to quote the writer Richard was so it become a good friend the last four or five years and Rick Richard were so you know Empire Falls all those great books is no bulky and actually been won but he wasn't writing it when he gave me this advice and I want to share with you guys this really really smart advice I told him how tortured of us and I don't know I don't know I don't know how much to bring it in my phone I know that my editor was right but I don't wanna violate the privacy on and on he said well if it were me I'd asked myself am I trying to settle any scores of this book am I trying to skewer anybody and he said if I came to conclusion I was he said I I might write up my wing college he episode if I came to the honest no I'm not trying to hurt anyone I'm just trying to capture as you know subjectively as I can from the emotional lens of my own memory what those years were like for me he said they might go ahead and write and I knew as soon as he said it that I I wasn't mad at him that wasn't mad at my mother my father I didn't even feel sorry for the boy again what a childhood I've had they're a lot worse out there I just felt artistically inspired to try to paint it for whatever reason so Charlie so so then I opened the doors and I bring in the truth of my house one of the things I discovered again this whole notion of writing as an actor discovery by the way how's that possible I'm writing a memoir what can I discover well I'm convinced that we don't know unless we're you know repressing some trauma which can happen to people may it not have happened to any of you but it might have unless that's the story also must pretty know what happened but really what the hell happened that's what we go to therapy I know I know my father my mother was abused and we lived in poverty and I know my story but you notice with a therapist do they make you tougher they make you go back if you look at the word to remember I don't know the Latin or Greek root is but the opposite is dismembered chop chop chop remember means to put that together all right so Charlie so I'm putting it back together and I think okay my strategy is I'm only gonna write about my family where they're experienced in her sex life so if I walk by my brother's door doors four o'clock on Wednesday afternoon and I get the sounds of a grown woman moaning sexually I'm gonna put in the malls but I'm not going inside that door because that's my brother's door it's not mine but the hallway is my store and all right so then I I write the draft and then I feel it's a much more honest boy and and then I decide I'm not gonna give him veto power but I have to show them I can't talk so I have to say the younger sister you talk about Nicole she's not gonna read it she never will she said it was a terrible childhood and I'm not going back no offense I read your novels I'm not reading this that's completely fine with me my sister says on read it and thank God she didn't have any big well she said this one thing well as fascinating as she and job my brother Jeff and my mother all had a sink a similar emotional memory of the time even my mother which was fascinating to me my sister who is now a national leader and domestic violence prevention and works closely with Joe Biden and Obama administration she said did you have to put the big bag of dope for Christ's exciting job Street statecraft so I was really worried about my brother for the reading later said so I call him up we drink it together we're both working in and I tell him I think I need to put in because one of the things I discovered I took a look at a lot of young American probably worldwide mincer I took my hurt and I converted to rage and aggression I became homicidal some guys throw a football with it or go to law school I actually threw punches my brother did and this is a gross generalization but I think there's some truth to it hid what more girls do he took his burdens and returned it inward and he got so sick he won so I thought was really important to show the two psychic past the homicidal direction sort of saddle direction for the two boys and family so I Tom silence and Jepsen you know he smokes he's never worked out he can kick my ass and then my mother was equally generous and then I'll show up on this we're driving because I'm still a cowardly little bastard we're driving I'm looking in the face for drinking coffee I said hey mom yes honey you know I'm right in the movie no you're writing about your childhood yeah anyway I'm at that part where you don't know kind of gave up a little bit I'm stumbling along because the last thing I want to do is hurt my mother who stayed who did the best she knew how she didn't descend into violence or abuse of us or or drug addiction or alcoholism she but she kind of gave up but she stayed I don't want to hurt her she says Andres you want him don't you dare like a already he says don't you dare don't you dare not write anything because of me she said don't you write your story that's your story to write and you write it honey she said besides I'm so old I just don't give a what people think because when I think about my cast it's sort of like an eight millimeter quick through vision of my past and I can't come up with details you know what the truth is I have a good memory for quotes but it's not very good it's not good forget about a min want to say my memory is terrible no here's something very beautiful about the imagination and memory and the mind it seems to me so there's a wonderful line I use all the time in my creative writing fiction classes from the right of Ron Carlson he said details are for the writer only they are the instruments by which we steer I was giving a talk by which we steer a lot of young writers think oh I'll put in the details later and and they're making a fundamental mistake I think which which is this details are not the garnish on the plate they're not the little part of tomahto sprig of parsley they are them eating potatoes I was giving a talk in Dallas and rock museum and the talk seemed to be going well people seem to be listening then after a while like 15 minutes in they're all kind of squinting at me and every now and then because I am from Havel right down the river and warrants and now I'll drop an f-bomb I get so excited I think in conservative Christian Texas do not just drop in on them I don't think but I'm talking I'm talking and it's there another really like there man speaking Swedish up here whenever and I reach for the water bottle is them is I'm sick you know I've seen like 40 feet up in the wall behind these is thin transoms you know really modern architectural design but it's facing west and the Sun is in all their eyes you know I didn't say I just kept talking so imagine right throat rosy you might be writing for the point of view of a public speaker and and and that one detail can change the direction of the entire story can say yeah you know what screw you people from Dallas anyway you killed JFK thorns off gets drunk cheats on the his wife with the waitress all because of the Sun in their eyes I found when writing challenge that I was using this first of all I wanted to read like a novel I wanted to read more like fiction and nonfiction but man was i nervous I did not want to make any mistake since James Fry's million pieces fiasco you all know that story right he made up some stuff in his memoir everybody was running creative nonfiction is really careful I would call people up that was a TransAm right wasn't it was it so I was within the parameters what really happened but again now what was it like or was it really like to be in this thing that's happening you must go to the five senses as you do when you're right in fiction so copy example I'll shut up I'm sitting on my stoop with my brother and I remember this is a tiny little house in Newburyport which believe it or not was a top of the waterfront town four years ago wasn't a cute little boutique town it is now we lived on one of the toughest streets to call it slime it was Lime Street to call it slime Street across the street the neighbor had raped his twenty seven month old niece it was that kind of yeah it was that kind of darkness a drunk one night more than one like stumbled in up from the local bar and urinated in our front foyer we had no locks on the door I remember and gentle and I will constantly being doubled by the local punks a lot of whom were not dead and Jeff and I was sitting on the stoop and rosy writing the memory I remembered I can still smell it that stoop had a sweet smell to it and years later I realized it was the lead paint flaking off the house and then as I was describing with my pencil in my notebook of my little cave in my basement this paint smell are you all so yeah I could smell dried piss of the drunks who peed on the sidewalk on the way home from the bar after last call and then when I smelled the sweet led of the paint and the dried urine another sense open a panel and my memory opened the way it will for all of us and now yeah that's when Cody parks and those guys sauce and he started to chase us and we were running through the lumberyard and then went underneath the dock on the river and something guy and that's how the whole book came back to me I mean I mean there's not any event in there that didn't I didn't know about but the deeper details of it came from the writing which is a lovely thing so I will end with this line from a gray span of the short story writer just left lucky not a beautiful body of work she said when we write we actually write what we don't know we know thank you all very much I neglected to tell people today we're gonna continue this in the Bergdorf Galilee next door I agree it's going to be around to continue the conversation with you and afford some designer to sign your books which are available for purchase and I know that there are many things I could say that you inherited from your dad

3 thoughts on “Award-Winning Author Andre Dubus III on Writing the Memoir

  1. It was crazy when he pointed out the girl that was texting, sucks to be her

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