Sunday, December 21, 2014

Edward Hoadgland on Writer's Almanac Today

It's the birthday of the man who said, "Country people do not behave as if they think life is short; they live on the principle that it is long, and savor variations of the kind best appreciated if most days are the same." That's Edward Hoagland, born in New York City (1932), who began his literary career as a novelist but is best known for his nature and travel writing. His first books were what he called "documentary novels," books like Cat Man (1956), which was based on what he had seen working as a lion keeper for a traveling circus, and The Circle Home (1960), about a washed-up boxer.

Hoagland refers to himself as peripatetic and happy when going about with Mississippi muskrat trappers or riding mules down the Rio Grande. So in the mid-1960s, he set out for British Columbia to ride the rivers, follow the trails, and talk with old-timers about the heyday of the homesteaders and prospectors. He began keeping a journal of his trip, which became the nonfiction book Notes from the Century Before (1969) and led him to writing essays instead of novels.

For Hoagland, the essay was a freer form than fiction and he wrote on everything from tugboats and taxidermy, jury duty and suicide, to go-go dancers and the time he mailed his mutilated draft card to President Johnson. His first collection was The Courage of Turtles (1971), followed by Walking the Dead Diamond River (1973) and numerous others. His most recent novel is Children Are Diamonds, which was published last year.

He said: "Many divorces are not really the result of irreparable injury but involve, instead, a desire on the part of the man or woman to shatter the setup, start out from scratch alone, and make life work for them all over again. They want the risk of disaster, want to touch bottom, see where bottom is, and, coming up, to breathe the air with relief and relish again."