Haruf, Kent 1943-
HARUF, Kent 1943-
PERSONAL: Surname rhymes with "sheriff"; born February 24, 1943, in Pueblo, CO; son of Louis A. (a Methodist preacher) and Eleanor V. (a teacher and homemaker; maiden name, Shaver) Haruf; married Virginia K. Koon (divorced); married Cathy Dempsey; children: Sorel, Whitney, Chaney (daughters). Education: Nebraska Wesleyan University, B.A., 1965; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1973.
ADDRESSES: Home—P. O. Box 1580, Salida, CO 81201. Agent—Peter Matson, Sterling Lord Literistic, 65 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012.
CAREER: Worked odd jobs, including farm laborer, construction worker, rural paper route carrier, hospital orderly, railroad worker, librarian, and orphanage house parent; served in the Peace Corps in Turkey, 1965-67; taught high school English in Wisconsin and Colorado, 1976-86; Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln, assistant professor, 1986-91; Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, associate professor, 1991-2000.
AWARDS, HONORS: PEN/Hemingway Foundation Special Citation, 1985; American Library Notable Books Award, 1985; Whiting Writer's Award, Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, 1986, for The Tie That Binds; Maria Thomas Award, 1991; National Book Award finalist in fiction, 1999, Mt. Plains Booksellers Award, 2000, Salon.com Award, 2000, Alex Award, 2000, New Yorker Fiction Award finalist, 2000, Los Angeles Times Fiction Award finalist, 2000, Book Sense Award finalist, 2000, 10th Colorado Evil Companions
Literary Award, 2002, and OneBook-AZ 2003 award, nominated for the Dublin IMPAC 2001 Literary Award, all for Plainsong.
The Tie That Binds, Holt (New York, NY), 1984.
Where You Once Belonged, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Plainsong, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
Eventide, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
Also contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Puerto del Sol, Grand Street, Prairie Schooner, and Gettysburg Review. Stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1987; and Where Past Meets Present, University of Colorado Press (Boulder, CO), 1994.
ADAPTATIONS: Haruf's short story "Private Debts/Public Holdings" was adapted into a short film by Nancy Cooperstein for Chanticleer Films, 1987. CBS has acquired an option for TV rights to Plainsong and The Tie That Binds. Plainsong has been adapted for audio.
SIDELIGHTS: The son of a Methodist minister, Kent Haruf was born and raised in the flatlands of northeastern Colorado, an environment that provides the background for his fiction. Haruf's career path to his longtime ambition of writing was a slow and convoluted one, involving attendance at several universities, a stint in the Peace Corps in Turkey (where he penned his first short stories), and numerous odd jobs, including being a janitor while he waited for the Iowa Writers Workshop to "take pity on him," as he told Denver Post interviewer Nancy Lofholm. After graduating from the prestigious University of Iowa Writers Workshop at the age of thirty, Haruf again worked construction and shelved library books in Colorado, then taught high-school English while he slowly developed his writing. He did not make his first appearance in print, a short story in a literary magazine, until eleven years later at the age of forty-one. That same year, 1984, his first novel was published. Speaking with John Blades of Publishers Weekly, Haruf described Holt, the fictional town that provides the setting for his novels, as his own "little postage stamp of native soil." Holt is a small Colorado farming community, close to the Kansas and Nebraska borders and more akin to the rural environments of those states than it is to cosmopolitan Denver to the west. Blades noted: "Along with its surrounding farms and homesteads, Holt has proved as fertile—and will perhaps be as inexhaustible—for Haruf's fiction as the apocryphal Yoknapatawpha County was for Faulkner's."
Haruf's first novel, The Tie That Binds, chronicles the long, hard life of Edith Goodnough, born near the turn of the twentieth century. Edith's story is told by Sanders Roscoe, the son of the man Edith loved but refused to marry, giving up her chance at happiness to care for a tyrannical crippled father. The Tie That Binds garnered Haruf several honors, including the 1986 Whiting Writer's Award. The novel was praised by critics as well; Ruth Doan MacDougall in the Christian Science Monitor observed that Haruf's "characters live, and the voice of his narrator reverberates after the last page: humorous, ironic, loving." Chris Wall in the Los Angeles Times Book Review hailed The Tie That Binds as "an impressive, expertly crafted work of sensitivity and detail, absent the hokum that usually accompanies sad tales of simple women and their domineering fathers." Haruf also won accolades from Perry Glasser in the New York Times Book Review. The critic declared that the author's "work is rooted in a sense of place; his eye and ear are faithful to his subject." The novel brought him "a $25,000 Whiting Award, a PEN/Hemingway citation, and a job teaching freshman composition at Nebraska Wesleyan," according to Blades.
Haruf followed The Tie That Binds with his 1991 work, Where You Once Belonged. This book centers on Jack Burdette, a villainous former high school football hero who manages to ruin many lives in his home town of Holt, Colorado. Narrating Jack's story is a man with a stake in the events, newspaper editor Pat Arbuckle. Richard Eder in the Los Angeles Times Book Review offered a laudatory assessment of Where You Once Belonged, calling it "taut and deadly," and applauding the "disciplined economy" of "Haruf's writing." The critic concluded that the author's second novel is a "stirring and remarkable book." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book a "deeply affecting novel," and noted that "not a word is wasted in [Haruf's] brooding drama." A commentator for Kirkus Reviews observed that Haruf "does a beautiful job of capturing small-town life."
Haruf wrote his first two novels by conventional means. With his third he tried a radically different approach. Removing his glasses and placing a stocking cap (not wool) over his eyes, he typed his first draft blind on an old manual typewriter. Haruf's aim, as related by Blades, was "to achieve freshness and spontaneity without being distracted by the sight of words on the page." Haruf also told the Boston Herald's Rosemary Herbert, "Unlike the computer, which needs another command to make the work go on paper, the typewriter is more simple, direct. Something about the sound of the keys hitting makes an obvious connection between what you think and the results you get." The result was Plainsong, a novel subsequently lauded by critics even more highly than Haruf's earlier books. Even before its publication, Plainsong began drawing special attention. According to Daisy Maryles of Publishers Weekly, "Knopf's enthusiasm for [the novel] began last spring with the manuscript being passed around in-house; for a while, it was the most photocopied manuscript on Knopf's fall list." On the basis of editorial response to the book, a larger first printing was planned, along with increased publicity that included a twelve-city tour for Haruf.
In the epigraph to Plainsong, Haruf states that the title of the book refers to the "simple and unadorned" vocal melodies, sometimes sung by alternating voices, that have been used in Christian churches for centuries. The novel tells the story of six major characters and several subsidiary ones, and like a plainsong, the action is related from alternating perspectives of different characters in different chapters. Once again the setting is Holt, Colorado, and its environs. The plot begins with three separate tales that ultimately intertwine. A pregnant teenager, Victoria Roubideaux, is kicked out of her home by her mother; a local high school history teacher, Tom Guthrie, is abandoned by his wife and left to raise his two young sons alone; and two elderly bachelor brothers, Harold and Raymond McPherson, have consigned themselves to an isolated existence on their cattle ranch miles from town. "Although the intersection of these three sets of lonely lives might normally have all the melodramatic makings of a provincial soap opera," noted Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times, "Mr. Haruf orchestrates their convergence with such authority and grace that their stories materialize before the reader's eyes without a shred of contrivance."
Writing in a lean prose style that several reviewers compared to that of Hemingway, Haruf portrays the lives of his characters from the fall of one year through the spring of the next, often using images from the natural world and the changing seasons to complement the changes they experience. "A fugue upon weather and light plays throughout the novel," observed Verlyn Klinkenborg in a glowing review of the novel for the New York Times Book Review, while Donna Seaman of Booklist commented: "Haruf's narrative voice is spare and procedural, and his salt-of-the-earth characters are reticent almost to the point of mannerism until it becomes clear that their terseness is the result of profound shyness and an immensity of feeling. Haruf's unforgettable tale is both emotionally complex and elemental, following, as it so gracefully does, the cycle of life, death, and rebirth." London Observer critic, Selina Mills remarked, "Many American writers such as Cormac McCarthy have handled the subject of Midwest prairie towns and uncommunicative inhabitants before. Fiction, too, has often relied on musical form for narrative structure. Haruf, however, offers a fresh approach by creating layers, which intensify and deepen as the novel progresses, alternating between each character's life at every chapter. Like the 'unadorned melody' in the book's epigraph, the prose is simple and understated." Christian Stayner for the Christian Science Monitor described the characters as "richly-written." Although less overcome with the power of Plainsong than most reviewers, Robin Nesbitt of Library Journal nevertheless found it to be both "lyrical and well crafted" and a "tight narrative about how families can be made between folks who are not necessarily blood relatives [that] makes for enjoyable reading."
Knopf's confidence in Plainsong was justified when the novel became a National Book Award finalist and appeared on the Publishers Weekly best-seller lists, prompting further paperback reprints of Haruf's earlier novels. Discussing with Blades his "sudden" success at the age of fifty-six, Haruf noted: "This country's crazy in terms of fame and what people think it means. They expect a writer to be something between a Hollywood starlet and the village idiot…. Fame is very seductive and can be very dangerous if you're trying to get your work done." Lofholm quoted him on his success: "Haruf said writing has gotten more difficult: 'Your standards change. You want to do something better than you've done before.' He knows he's succeeded when a New York Times review calls Plainsong 'a novel foursquare, so delicate and lovely, that it has the power to exalt the reader.' But Haruf said he really knows he's made it when an eastern plains dairy farmer stabs his finger onto the cover of A Tie That Binds and says 'now that is exactly right'."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 34, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.
Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ), April 2, 2003, p. E1.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 30, 2000, p. D2.
Austin American-Statesman, October 10, 1999, p. K6.
Booklist, August, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Plainsong, p. 1986; January 1, 2000, p. 819; April 1, 2000, p. 1449.
Boston Herald, December 15, 2000, p. 051, interview.
Christian Science Monitor, December 7, 1984, p. B12; October 21, 1999, p. 13.
Denver Post, October 17, 2001, p. F-01.
Entertainment Weekly, November 5, 1999, Megan Harlan, "The Week," p. 76.
ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, winter, 2003, p. 185.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1989, pp. 1618-1619.
Library Journal, October 1, 1984, review of The Tie That Binds, p. 1861; January, 1990, Joseph Levandoski, review of Where You Once Belonged, p. 148; September 1, 1999, Robin Nesbitt, review of Plainsong, p. 232; July 2000, p. 162.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 27, 1985, p. 4; February 11, 1990, pp. 3, 7.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 15, 1999, p. 1E. News & Record (Piedmont Triad, NC), November 14, 1999, p. H5.
Newsweek, October 4, 1999, Jeff Giles, "The Heart of the Country," p. 67.
New York Review of Books, October 21, 1999, Joyce Carol Oates, "Wearing out the West," p. 30.
New York Times, October 8, 1999, pp. B45, E47; December 1, 1999, pp. B4, E1.
New York Times Book Review, January 6, 1985, Perry Glasser, review of The Tie That Binds, p. 16; October 3, 1999, p. 7.
Observer (London, England), May 14, 2000, p. 12.
Publishers Weekly, August 24, 1984, review of The Tie That Binds, p. 74; December 1, 1989, Sybil Steinberg, review of Where You Once Belonged, p. 47; August 2, 1999, review of Plainsong, p. 70; October 25, 1999, Daisy Maryles, "This Novel Just Sings," p. 19; November 1, 1999, review of Plain-song, pp. 46, 59, John Blades, "Kent Haruf: Home on the Plains," p. 59; February 7, 2000, p. 22; September 4, 2000, p. 24.
Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), February 27, 2000, p. 2E.
School Library Journal, June, 2000, p. 173.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 8, 1999, p. E2.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), December 12, 1999, p. 004.
Time, October 25, 1999, Elizabeth Gleick, review of Plainsong, p. 130.
Times (London, England), April 22, 2000, p. 22; April 28, 2001, p. 16.
Wall Street Journal, October 8, 1999, p. W10; October 11, 1999, p. B1.
January Magazine.com, http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (November 1999), review of Plainsong.
PageOneLit.com, http://www.pageonelit.com/ (March 9, 2004), interview with Haruf.
PeaceCorpsWriters.com, http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/ (March 4, 2004), interview with Haruf,
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (March 9, 2004), interview with Haruf.*