Huddle, David 1942-
Huddle, David 1942-
Born July 11, 1942, in Ivanhoe, VA; son of Charles R., Jr. (an industrial manager) and Mary F. Huddle; married Lindsey Massie (an attorney), August 31, 1968; children: Elizabeth Ross, Mary Massie. Education: University of Virginia, B.A., 1968; Hollins College, M.A., 1969; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1971.
Home—Burlington, VT. Office—Department of English, University of Vermont, 425 Old Mill, Burlington, VT 05405. Agent—PFD New York, 373 Park Ave. S., 5th Fl., New York, NY 10016. E-mail—[email protected]
University of Vermont, Burlington, from assistant professor to professor of English, 1971—. Visiting writer, Middlebury College, University of Idaho, and University of North Carolina at Greensboro; faculty member, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and Rainier Writing Workshop; writer-in-residence, Indiana University and Warren Wilson College. Military service: U.S. Army, parachutist, 1964-67; served in Vietnam; became sergeant; received Bronze Star.
Two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships.
A Dream with No Stump Roots in It (stories), University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1975.
Paper Boy (poetry), University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1979.
Only the Little Bone: Stories, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1986.
Stopping by Home (poetry), Peregrine Smith (Salt Lake City, UT), 1988.
The High Spirits: Stories of Men and Women, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1989.
The Writing Habit (essays), Peregrine Smith (Salt Lake City, UT), 1992.
The Nature of Yearning, Gibbs Smith (Salt Lake City, UT), 1992.
Intimates: A Book of Stories, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1993.
A David Huddle Reader: Selected Prose and Poetry, Middlebury College Press (Middlebury, VT), 1994.
(Editor, with Ghita Orth and Allen Shepherd) About These Stories: Fiction for Fiction Writers and Readers, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1995.
Tenorman: A Novella, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1995.
The Story of a Million Years (novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.
Summer Lake: New and Selected Poems, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1999.
Not: A Trio (short stories), University of Notre Dame Press (South Bend, IN), 2000.
La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl (novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.
Grayscale: Poems, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 2004.
Glory River: Poems, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 2007.
Author of afterword, Montana 1948, by Larry Watson, Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), 1993. Contributor to anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories. Contributor to periodicals, including Harper's, Georgia Review, Story, New York Times Book Review, Story, New York Times Magazine, and Esquire.
David Huddle has published poetry, short stories, and novels. To quote a Publishers Weekly reviewer: "His view of the human condition brims with wisdom, compassion, and a rare grace." Raised in rural Virginia, Huddle is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who has since turned to teaching at the university level. All of his experiences, from childhood through adulthood, inform his creative writing, which demonstrates a "versatility and deep involvement with language and the ‘journey’ of writing," according to Donna Seaman in Booklist.
Changing family dynamics provide subject matter for a number of Huddle's poems. His verse also explores childhood in the 1950s. In Booklist, Seaman explained that the author's poetic works "are subtly chronographic in that they mark the changes time brings, and keep time with life's ever-modulating music." Library Journal contributor Frank Allen noted that Huddle's gift as a poet "is in articulating the difficulties of staying connected with one's parents." The critic added: "Transforming yearning for the past into a journey of self-knowledge, these candid, delicate poems become a base line for comprehending ‘ordinary life.’"
"Huddle's superb stories always sneak off in unexpected directions," declared Seaman. Character-driven and carefully crafted, Huddle's short stories and longer fiction "usually turn on some act of rebellion against the tedium of life, the restraints of a relationship," according to Susan Lowell in the New York Times Book Review. In Tenorman: A: Novella, for example, a gifted saxophonist agrees to live in a controlled environment so that a researcher in Washington, DC, can watch and record his every move in the interest of learning more about the creative forces behind jazz music. What the researcher discovers over time is how bleak and spiritless his own life is when compared to the jazzman's rich history. Seaman deemed Tenorman "mesmerizing and masterful," further claiming that Huddle's "haunting composition emulates all the nuances of jazz as he blends wry humor with bittersweet tenderness." Onlythe Little Bone: Stories depicts "the lines of power within the family, the community, the industries that support the community—and … the kind of men these institutions produce," stated Meredith Sue Willis in the New York Times Book Review. A series of linked stories, Only the Little Bone features a narrator who grows from youth to adulthood in a small town, but this is not to say that the work is provincial in its outlook. Willis concluded: "The final lines of the book extend the field of view as far as possible. This boy, this man, his family, his town, and his nation represent human history writ small, writ large, written by a gifted artist."
After twenty years of success with poetry and shorter fiction, Huddle published his first novel, The Story of a Million Years, in 1999. A complex tale of intertwined relationships, the story follows two married couples through the various levels of their affection for one another, affection which is challenged by the discovery of a long-past love affair. "Huddle effortlessly creates seven distinct voices, inhabiting each character convincingly and completely," wrote a Publishers Weekly correspondent, adding: "The multiple voices also create surprising dimension and texture in a slender novel."
The twenty years' worth of work collected in Summer Lake: New and Selected Poems stands as the "fruit of a poetic practice beautifully in tune with Huddle's superb fiction," remarked Seaman in another Booklist review. In poems that are strongly aware of the passage and pressures of time, Huddle evokes small-town living in a rural setting, describing such richly visualized events as threshing wheat, traveling a paper route, and communicating with grandparents. Huddle includes poems about his formative experiences in Vietnam, but he remains focused on the pleasures and details of family life, Seaman noted. The inevitability of death of elder members of his family is contrasted with the flowering of life within his own children, and of the strength found within marriage and family, Seaman observed. Huddle's "formally unremarkable free verse and deliberately muted vocabulary seek the clearest possible understandings of his feelings and motives" as a poet, as well as those of the "eccentric, pathetic, or brave regional characters" who populate his poems, commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Library Journal critic Frank Allen concluded that "these candid, delicate poems become a base line for comprehending ‘ordinary life.’"
Huddle's novel La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl contrasts the unhappy marriage of a modern-day art historian with the sometimes romanticized life of a seventeenth-century artist. Suzanne Nelson, an art professor at the University of Vermont, is trapped in an unsatisfactory marriage with Jack, an outgoing sort whom Suzanne nevertheless considers boring and irritating. To escape, Suzanne begins retreating into an interior world centered on painter Georges de La Tour and his relationship with a peasant teenager and model dubbed the Wolf Girl because of an unusual patch of animal-like hair on her shoulder. Jack, for his part, turns to an old girlfriend, vivacious violinist and music scholar Elly, for the affection he cannot get from Suzanne. Past betrayals of others by Jack and Suzanne intermingle with the current story of the betrayals going on between them, as well as in the story of La Tour, whose reputation for kindness towards the French peasants may not reflect how poorly he actually treated them. Soon, Jack and Suzanne discover that their newly constructed relationships, whether real or fantasy, do not hold the answers to their conflicts with each other. With this novel, "Huddle has given us a vividly imagined world full of psychologically complex characters," commented Library Journal contributor Patrick Sullivan. A Publishers Weekly critic called the book a "beautifully written but awkwardly plotted second novel." Seaman, however, concluded that with this work, Huddle "reaches new heights of emotional verity and all-out bewitchment."
In a Booklist review of Huddle's Grayscale: Poems, Seaman described Huddle's poetry as "so dear, concrete, and anecdotal that even the most reluctant poetry reader will be seduced" by its quality. In these works, Huddle considers how color and its lack—as in the comparison between old and new photographs—signifies the passage of time from past to future. Grayscale represents the fixed and unchanging nature of memory, color the vividness of the present, and a blurred haziness the uncertainty of the future, Seaman mused. Huddle looks at memories from his past, of the sexual awakening of his teenage years, and the distance humans place between themselves and nature, relying instead on television or experts for their knowledge and experience of the natural world.
OUT OF IVANHOE
The most important fact about me is that I was raised in Ivanhoe, Virginia, an unincorporated town—a hamlet, really—in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its population was somewhere around nine hundred. During the time I grew up there (1942-1960), Ivanhoe was largely supported by the National Carbide Company's manufacturing plant, of which my father had come to be works manager. Though he didn't brag about having worked his way up from the personnel department to become the boss of the whole plant, it was a story I grew up knowing, a story I still tell with some pride.
In my twenties, I tried writing about Ivanhoe but gave up each effort after it seemed I could never capture the exact texture of how I had grown up in that place with my family. But after I had lived away from home almost as long as I had lived there, the poems in Paper Boy began coming to me, and for the first time I felt that I was setting down some personally essential writing about my family and Ivanhoe. An extensive fictional portrait of the town (where it is called Rosemary) is at the center of Only the Little Bone; the long story from that collection, "The Undesirable," describes the carbide plant at some length. It now seems to me a story that at its deepest level is about a boy's awareness of his father's job and how that awareness affects the boy's growing up. Like many writers (Ernest Hemingway and Seamus Heaney, for example), I've paid more than a little attention to the connection between my "work" and my father's work.
I grew up among rural people—many of them illiterate—who generally spoke the truth, however harsh the truth might have been. They were also people who loved stories and who communicated with each other by telling stories. They were inclined to speak the truth at the same time they wanted to tell a good story, an ambivalence that I have come to see as my writing dilemma. The laconic truth-speaking, story-loving voices of those Ivanhoe people were the inspiration for the poems of Paper Boy. It's a voice that reports a flat and objective version of the truth but that frequently moves into hyperbole, local legend, and outright lying. When that voice found its way into one of my poems and then another and then a third, I began taking them down at a furious rate. I'd sometimes draft
two or three of them a day—a spell of productivity that I've experienced only that once in my writing life. Most of those Paper Boy poems were written in a span of about six weeks during one summer around 1976.
At the center of Paper Boy is my grandaddy Huddle, whose death in 1971 had powerfully affected me. In writing those poems, I came to see Charles R. Huddle, Sr., as the ultimate Ivanhoe citizen; not only was he a truth speaker and storyteller, he was also an affectionate and appreciative student of the town and its people. Occasionally I flatter myself in thinking that, after my fashion, I have followed his example. Grandaddy Huddle was one of those old-fashioned ordinarily literate persons; in conversation he referred to the stories of Twain, O. Henry, and Poe; he could recite swatches of poetry such as "The Shooting of Dan McGrew."
Books, education, and correct pronunciation were important to my family. For most of her life, my grandmama Huddle had some word or other that she was interested in pronouncing correctly, something she'd heard Lowell Thomas say on the radio or something she'd read in the newspaper. She stayed with a specific word for several days at a time. Having looked it up and tried out the dictionary description of its pronunciation, Grandmama then asked everybody who came around her how they pronounced it. She mocked President Kennedy for saying "Cuber" instead of "Cuba"; she loved to catch any public figure pronouncing something incorrectly. She was forever trying to correct the speech of the women who worked for her as cooks and housekeepers—though her pedagogy was probably aimed more at demonstrating the superiority of the teacher than at improving the student. Grandmama Huddle, so far as I know, never finished high school.
Stories were of interest to everyone in Ivanhoe, but words were of interest to my family. My parents and grandparents read—a lot; my Ivanhoe grandparents' house held several thousand books; hundreds more were shelved all through the rooms of our house and my Newbern grandmother's house. Newbern, Virginia, about forty miles from Ivanhoe, was also an unincorporated hamlet, but—probably because it had no factory—its ambience was more genteel than Ivanhoe's. Every summer, I spent a couple of weeks there with my grandmother Akers and my great-aunt Stella, ladies whose croquet-playing abilities are celebrated in my poem "Croquet." My short story "Underwater Spring" is loosely set in Newbern. In Newbern as well as in Ivanhoe, books were a sign that the people of our family were to be taken seriously. From a very early age, I knew to read books as I knew to eat and sleep. Books gave me pleasure, comfort, and excitement; at some level of my consciousness I must also have known book reading as a way to gain and hold the respect of both family members and outsiders.
Along with the Popes and the Prices, we Huddles were the aristocrats of our community. We expected more of ourselves than of the people around us. Without ever saying so—even to each other—we thought we were smarter and more moral and ethical than most people. We probably assumed that our aspirations were higher. On the other hand, we also saw ourselves as capable of putting forth unusual effort, of being willing to work longer and harder than ordinary persons.
Down in the bowels of Ivanhoe Elementary School, there was a closet-sized room that held an ice-cream freezer from which designated students sold popsicles and ice-cream-on-a-stick. Once, in a struggle with
some sixth or seventh graders who were teasingly trying to deny a few of us fifth graders access to that room, I became wholly absorbed in the task, pushing against the door with all my might, groaning and grunting as my face reddened. James Newman beside me suddenly exclaimed, "Would you look at Huddle! God almighty, the boy's going to break down the whole wall!" My exertion hadn't seemed exceptional to me at the moment, but I caused James and the others to break out laughing at me. That ten-year-old boy so nakedly revealing his desire arouses both admiration and pity in me when I look back at him now.
My family nourished my literary inclinations at the same time it taught me to expect a lot of myself. This cultural background provided me with some capacity as a writer but not so much as to leave me without motivation. Coming from Ivanhoe, I was "hungry," so to speak, in the sense that a young boxer coming from an urban ghetto might be "hungry" for both excellence and the rewards that could be won with exemplary performance. A boy my age from Richmond or Charlottesville or northern Virginia might have had a far better literary background, but he might also have been inclined to take literary art for granted or to have become bored with literary matters. When I began my first year at the University of Virginia at the age of eighteen, I met a great many such boys—just then becoming young men—and I envied them mightily.
My relationship with my mother—as therapy would have me phrase it—was very much informed by books. From very early in our childhood, she read to my brothers and me—The Wind in the Willows and Winnie-the-Pooh being favorites of hers and ours. I'm pretty certain that these reading sessions were occasions when I came to associate being read to as an act of affection—and books as something my mother used to convey her love to me and my brothers. When all three of us boys learned to read, there were family evenings of reading, in which all five of us took turns reading from The Yearling, David Copperfield, or one of the "Bobbsey Twins" books. We had no TV then, though we did listen to radio programs with such passion that to give up an evening of those programs in order to read was no small sacrifice for all of us to make.
In my early teens, I started reading—from the "Reader's Digest Condensed Books" volumes subscribed to by my parents—the shortened versions of novels suggested by my mother. She and I began to have conversations about what we read. This was a form of intimacy I had with her that was not shared by my brothers or my father. It was a singular form of attention I obtained from her. In my essay entitled "What You Get from Good Writing" in The Writing Habit, I mention being "enormously impressed" by Herman Wouk's Youngblood Hawke, which was one of those "Reader's Digest Condensed Books." It presented not only a portrait of a young man becoming a writer, it also included a portrait of the young man's mother—a vigorous and morally upright person. This was a view of a writer and his mother that my mother and I learned about and admired. Although I remain somewhat embarrassed that such a "popular" book could have so profoundly influenced my life, that nevertheless seems to have been the case. Wouk's invention not only gave my mother something to aspire to for my career, it perhaps also helped her accept some of the negative aspects of my choosing a literary career—such as the pillaging of family memories as material for fiction.
I grew up in the same house in which my mother grew up; that house was across a field from the house where my father grew up. My mother and father grew up "next door" to each other; they were married when she was fifteen and he was twenty-two. My parents' courtship and marriage are a family legend of which I have been intensely aware since an early age. Since I spent a great deal of time at my grandparents' house across the field, my childhood was spent in the exact same landscape of my parents' childhood. "Was is," in Faulkner's phrase, was a basic assumption of my upbringing. Rather than heightening my awareness of history—especially family history—this circumstance simply blurred the distinctions in my mind between past and present. "The House," "The Field," and the prose-poem section of "Things I Know, Things I Don't Know," poems in Stopping by Home, come out of this history-claustrophobic aspect of my upbringing.
Not the least of my early literary influences was my older brother, Charles, whose presence strongly informed my stories in Only the Little Bone, especially "Summer of the Magic Show" and "The Wedding Storm." As a sixth and seventh grader, Charles became interested in plays, and he actually composed a one-act that he was kind enough to show me—I remember not what his play was about but the look of the pages of his manuscript, which he had somehow typed up rather professionally. In my memory, I wrote a page or so of a play, but here, too, I have little memory of the content of my composition; instead I envision a handwritten page—on those grainy schoolbook tablets of that era—with the words arranged in imitation of my brother's pages.
In Charles's last year of high school, 1958, there was a custom wherein graduating seniors bequeathed something to someone in the lower grades. Charles handed down his award of "Best Sense of Humor" to me, and in his written bequest, which was read aloud to the entire school during an assembly, he said something like, "To my brother Dave who already has a pretty good sense of humor." I was touched that Charles chose to give something to me on this public (albeit frivolous) occasion, because in that time and place siblings didn't often commit such sentimental acts. I was also surprised to hear that somebody else (and somebody I respected as much as I respected my older brother) thought I had a good sense of humor. Thinking about that bequest now, I see it as validating my efforts to amuse others. I've certainly intentionally used humor in my writing often enough—and with varying degrees of success—but more frequently I'm not trying to be funny and not aware that what I'm writing might turn out to be funny.
My father took me seriously. My earliest memories of him are characterized by him carefully regarding me, looking at me, studying my face, to try to discern what I was thinking and feeling. I sometimes had to resort to pretty crude strategies to get his attention (for example, "The Undesirable" has the teenaged Reed Bryant making a scene in order to win father's attention away from working a crossword puzzle), but he was a good listener and a compassionate person, along with being genuinely curious about his sons.
Talking with my father late one evening of the holiday break between the semesters of my first year at the University of Virginia, I handed him the anthology we had used in my English class and asked him to read a passage in a Henry James short story. I had been so strongly affected by the passage that I wanted him to see it. Exactly what I wanted him to see I now remember no more clearly than the title of the story, which resides nowhere in my adult consciousness. I suppose I wanted to share with him something that was important to me. At the same time, though, I think I also wanted to assault him with something that was completely alien to him. I would have been eighteen, and my father would have been fifty. I wanted to shove something in my father's face that was so completely anti-Ivanhoe, Virginia, that he would have no choice but surrender to me and grant me my manhood. "My Son Assaults Me with Henry James" could be the title of a poem by my father if he had been a poet. But my father read the passage to himself, then patiently discussed it with me, or asked me about it, or asked me what it had to offer that had so enthralled me. I don't remember much of what he said or what I said. I do remember the frustration I felt because the conversation had not led to the Oedipal triumph I was seeking. And I remember feeling somewhat comforted by the conversation because it had demonstrated my father's respect for one of the first things I claimed to value in my newly acquired adulthood—even if he couldn't very well comprehend it.
Though it seems only marginally relevant, another experience with my father that I think of in this connection was when I was fifteen or sixteen, had forgotten my saxophone, and he drove me (wearing the band uniform in which I thought I looked so snazzy) the twenty miles from Ivanhoe to Wytheville for a concert
before I saw that I didn't have it. With only a mild expression of impatience, he drove me the twenty miles back home to get the instrument, then the twenty miles back to Wytheville for what was left of the concert. The point is not so much that he didn't lose his temper but that in all that long drive with the two of us sitting beside each other in the front seat, my father seemed to me to understand how a boy my age might be somewhat scatterbrained, and he apparently thought I was worth the extra effort he was putting forth on my behalf.
Many years later, around the age of forty-five, when I was driving past the hospital in Burlington, Vermont, where both my children were born and where I had lived and worked for almost twenty years, it occurred to me—it actually hit me hard enough to make my eyes sting—that the only way I could have become a writer was through my parents' having loved me. In all their "upbringing" of me, they gave me to understand that they thought I was worthwhile. They thought what I said and did and thought and felt was of value.
Had they frequently dismissed me or belittled me, as I have known some parents to do to their children, and as I have certainly occasionally been tempted to do to my own children, I would not have felt worthy of setting down arrangements of words that somebody else would wish to read.
Arraga (Mrs. George M.) Young, my high school English teacher, was the person who actually gave me the skills to become a writer. Specifically, she taught grammar so that I understood the parts of speech and how they could be assembled into phrases and clauses, and how those larger units of language could be fashioned into sentences. I came to enjoy sentence diagramming so much that my classmates began teasing me about having a crush on Mrs. Young. I did have a sort of crush on Mrs. Young?—in the sense that I respected her a great deal and I knew that she knew things that I wanted to know. I was also afraid of her, as were most of her students; she tolerated very little nonsense and absolutely no sass or back talking. Although a thin woman, she was imposingly tall and famous for smacking T.W. Alley, the 275-pound star football player, on the back of the head and making him be quiet, something no other teacher in our high school had been able to do.
Mrs. Young also taught literature, some of which I remember—a few lines from Julius Caesar that she required us to memorize and recite for her for a grade, and these first few lines of a John Masefield poem: "I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky." It surprises me that I don't remember more of what I read in Mrs. Young's classes. I think she loved literature, but I don't think she taught it with the passion and the skill with which she taught the basic matters of language.
Coming from Ivanhoe and riding the school bus twenty miles each morning to Wytheville to high school was a circumstance that played its role in "tilting" me toward aesthetic achievement. Ivanhoe, with its nine hundred or so citizens, was provincial—and a very rough place—whereas Wytheville, which had a population of maybe twenty thousand, was urban, sophisticated, civilized. We county kids who rode school buses into the consolidated high school were looked down upon by the town kids, who considered us farmers and hicks and who teased and insulted us. Very quickly, in my thirteenth year, I learned to bathe more frequently than once a week, to use deodorant regularly, to shave, to refuse my father's offer to cut my hair, and to ask the Wytheville barber for the appropriate haircut (a flattop). At thirteen, I also began to change my way of speaking. The more rural the area of southwestern Virginia, the less corrupt was its Scot-Irish dialect of the mountain people. In Ivanhoe, we had a pretty pure version of that dialect, but in Wytheville, the dialect had been considerably smoothed out and refined into something closer to generic American speech. An event that sticks somewhat painfully in my memory is of standing in line to receive my gym uniform for eighth-grade phys. ed., stepping up to the front, and announcing, "I need me some of them britches." All around me kids were breaking up laughing as they mimicked me: "Britches! The boy wants ‘some of them britches’!" At that exact moment I began, both consciously and unconsciously, "tinkering" with my accent, trying to adjust the way I spoke so as to sound like a town kid.
By the age of seventeen, I had perhaps learned to speak the Wytheville accent well enough to pass. The teasing had stopped. But then, entering the University of Virginia, I was suddenly faced with negotiating an entirely new culture, one that held the whole of the southwestern part of the state in mild contempt. Young men (UVA was an all-male school then) from Richmond and Norfolk and Arlington were much amused by the way I spoke. They were equally amused by the way my roommate, Fred D. Hilton, spoke, and he was from Wytheville! The distinction between Fred's speech and mine—formerly of such significance to me and to him—apparently made no difference to these stylish young men. Once again I set out to correct my spoken language.
I don't really have an ear for accents, with the result being that the adjustments I've made have merely given me a kind of pretentiously eccentric way of speaking. I sound like what I am, a hillbilly trying to speak "correctly."
As an adult, of course, I understand how needlessly I agonized over the way I talked; what a dreadful waste of energy it was to try to change my way of speaking, and what a personal loss it is no longer to be able to speak the language of my childhood and the place where I grew up. When I go back to Ivanhoe nowadays, or to Wytheville, I don't sound like those people. And I don't sound like anybody else, either. People hearing me for the first time ask if I'm English or from Texas. "What is that accent?" they ask, and I have to confess, it isn't truly from anywhere. I sort of made it up myself, though I didn't mean for it to turn out the way it did.
Perhaps if I'd ever really thought about what I was doing, I might have held onto my original Ivanhoe "sound." But I rarely shaped the words that came out of my mouth in a conscious fashion; I was merely responding to the circumstances in which I found myself, seeking respect and admiration instead of condescension and ridicule.
I believe that one is "tilted" toward aesthetic achievement through facing conflicting circumstances of a particular sort. For one reason or another, I've thought of myself as an outsider. Growing up in Ivanhoe among the ordinary and white-trash families, I was a member of one of the "good families." Going to high school in Wytheville, I was a hick from Ivanhoe. At the University of Virginia, I was a hick from southwest Virginia. The key to becoming an insider in each of these cases was language, and I came from a family that paid attention to language. I had a teacher who helped me gain a special aptitude for language. These circumstances alone did not make me a writer, but they certainly gave me a powerful nudge in that direction.
Becoming a writer, however, wasn't something I even considered until around the age of twenty. My first serious career aspiration was to become a band director. I started wanting to do that around the age of fifteen, and I held onto the idea until it came time to apply to colleges. As a prodigy of the alto saxophone, I had joined the George Wythe High School Band before I even began eighth grade. My father had held onto his saxophone, even occasionally playing it throughout my childhood. It was a lovely silver-plated Conn alto, with a gold-plated bell, a kind of magical object in my eyes. After a good deal of pestering on my part, my father taught me how to put the horn together, where to place my fingers, how to blow into the mouthpiece, and how to play each of the notes from the bottom to the top of the instrument's range. Then he gave me permission to use the horn. Very quickly I learned how to play it—loudly and badly and incessantly. I just about drove everyone in my family nuts with my playing, but as a result of all that practicing, I did get to be a pretty good horn player for a boy my age. Around the time I turned thirteen, my father drove me to Wytheville to try out for the band—at the band director's house. While Mrs. White fried chicken in the kitchen, we three males went into the living room for the tryout. My father sat with his legs crossed and his hat in his lap, while I played "Little Brown Jug" for Jack White.
Mr. White had been at George Wythe High School for a year or two before I joined the band. I'm not certain where he came from or exactly where he had been before he settled in Wytheville. Probably he hadn't been out of college that long—he had graduated from Concord College in West Virginia—and I think maybe he'd been in the air force, playing in a military band. He was an exceptional man and a phenomenally successful band director.
I hadn't ever encountered anybody like Jack White, and I don't think many people in our county had either. He had charisma. He was tall and thin and moderately handsome, and he had a voice of unusual strength and resonance. He was, as we have learned to say about such people, driven, though the word wasn't on our tongues then, or even the word that we might have used if we'd thought of it—ambitious. In the short time he'd been at GWHS, Mr. White had taken a drab-uniformed, motley crew of about forty-five goof-offs and turned it into a 110-piece sharp-stepping marching band decked out in white buck shoes and, tailored white uniforms with gold piping and maroon breastplates. Ordinary high school bands marched at around 120 steps a minute. Our band marched at 190 steps a minute; we lifted our knees high, swung our horns smartly, and played with uncommon precision and control. Our signature tune was that breakneck circus medley that always makes me think of Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey, elephants, lions, tigers, and monkeys. We were circuslike when people saw us marching down the street toward them, something intricate and rich, something grand and fabulous. We were something no one in southwest Virginia had ever seen or heard the likes of before.
We won prizes; we were invited to perform in New York, Kansas City, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Washington; we were on TV; we made recordings; we marched in Eisenhower's inaugural parade. In the phrase of the Jaycees who so passionately sponsored us, we put Wytheville, Virginia, on the map.
To be a part of such a band at the age of thirteen was a powerful experience. By my senior year I had become a little tired of all the tedious drilling and practicing it required; nevertheless, the band gave me an identity that was of immense value in my teenage years and a dignity I would ordinarily have been denied because of coming from Ivanhoe. It gave me a social connection with the Wytheville kids that my nonband Ivanhoe peers never had. And the fact that I was a good musician—not the absolute best but probably among the half-dozen or so strongest musicians of GWHS—gave me some stature even among the town kids.
My years as a high school band member have found their way into my writing, especially in such stories as "The Undesirable" and "Playing." References to music and songs have been part of my writing from the beginning to the present. Less visible in my written work was how powerfully my life was informed by Jack White. To us kids and to the town and the county, he was a hero, a status we almost never granted to an outsider. He wasn't like us—he was loud and aggressive, and he gave everyone to know that he had work
to do. He had a temper that he didn't mind displaying in public. He had no use for what he called "slackers." He was a man of passionate aspiration.
Though not exactly an artist, Mr. White did everything in his power to raise our band's level of performance toward perfection. He put forth enormous energy, concentration, and emotional investment. He didn't mind being a tyrant and a fool. Each August at band camp, we spent hundreds of hours marching in some farmer's cornfield, repeating basic routines while Mr. White screamed at us when we made mistakes and pouted when we didn't try hard enough and never really praised us more than begrudgingly.
In rehearsal for concert band, while we were actually playing our instruments, Mr. White would walk around and poke us in the stomach to see if we were playing from the diaphragm. One morning, during her solo, he even poked Susan Short, the dainty oboist and the most proper girl in the whole school, in the stomach and shouted at her, "From the diaphragm, Susan! From the diaphragm!"
Among ourselves we sometimes made very light fun of him, and it was even acceptable for individual students to be publicly angry at him for the kind of slight or injustice that inevitably occurred in that high-tension circumstance. But we held Mr. White at a higher level of respect than I have known any other figure of authority to be held by his charges. On the sunny spring afternoon of my junior year that he called us together to break the news to us that he was leaving Wytheville to teach at a college in North Carolina, many girls cried openly, many boys looked like they wanted to cry, and not a single one of us made a joke or even tried to break the spell of sadness.
To go beyond ourselves was what Jack White showed us how to do. Or maybe he just showed us that through many hours of repetitive labor, taking ourselves seriously, and believing that we were just as good as anybody, we could achieve the extraordinary. He gave us a window with a clear view beyond the localness within which our families had been trapped for generations. Small-town and rural people in the Blue Ridge Mountains (and perhaps all over America) are capable and proud, but their overwhelming inclination is to "think small." On my desk at home I have a palm-sized, hand-carved hickory coon hound, nose to the ground and tail sticking straight up, that some whittling genius of the Great Smoky Mountains shaped to perfection through exacting attention and care. The slightest mishandling of the piece would have broken off the tail; any slight error of the blade would have chased away the dog spirit that so evidently resides within the wood. That carved coon hound is a thing of beauty fully consistent with the values of the culture in which I grew up. But it is not Overture 1812. Jack White brought Overture 1812 to Wythe County; he made us practice it and live within it with such intensity and for such a length of time that we country high school kids—we hicks—came to understand it and perform it with eloquence and aplomb.
What turned me away from music, or away from trying to become a high school band director (as three of my high school buddies did become), was part romance and part intuitive practicality. I was seventeen when I made the decision not to apply to Concord College to study music and instead to prepare myself to
go to law school. I had it wrong about law school, but I had it right about not studying music. As a musician, I had proved that I had technical ability with my instrument—I could play with speed and precision—and I could play with feeling. But I didn't read music well, I had no real ear, and I lacked the intuitive sense of composition that enables jazz musicians to improvise. I would have made myself miserable trying to become a professional musician; furthermore, as an adult my personality has so far demonstrated no aptitude that would suggest I could have been a good band director. I don't like high school kids, I don't like bossing people around, I'm not especially patient, and I have a difficult time tolerating less-than-inspired musical performance. Loud noise usually bothers me a lot. So it was an entirely sensible decision on my part not to attempt to follow in Jack White's footsteps. I've never had a moment's regret about it.
It was, however, my romantic interest in Kay Barnett that turned me away from Concord College and toward the University of Virginia. Girlfriend and boyfriend for about a year, Kay and I had discussed the future sufficiently for me to understand that as a lawyer I might be a more suitable husband for her than as a band director. Or maybe I just inferred as much from the way Kay's family lived—her parents' doctor-and-lawyer circle of friends, for instance. At any rate, in the fall of my senior year of high school, I embraced the practical dream of becoming a lawyer, marrying Kay Barnett, and settling down in Wytheville to raise a family.
But sometime that spring, I took a momentary interest in another girl, and Kay and I broke up. Over the next couple of years, I tried hard to persuade Kay that in spite of my deviating devotion, my love for her was true. To her credit, she never took me back. Before she finished her degree at Mary Washington College, she married a Washington and Lee University student from Galax who became a lawyer. I can give myself credit for having accurately discerned what she wanted, but without Kay as my girlfriend, I had trouble figuring out what it was that I wanted from being a student at the University of Virginia. Becoming a lawyer just to be a lawyer didn't serve as much of an incentive for me.
W&L had turned me down; so had William and Mary. My older brother had flunked out of UVA's School of Engineering the year before I came to Charlottesville. Fred Hilton, my roommate, and I were the only Wythe County people at UVA in 1960, and UVA wasn't the kind of school that cozied up to its students. I wasn't at all certain I belonged there.
I did a good deal of walking around and gawking at the place and the people. The grounds of Mr. Jefferson's university were immensely attractive to me; I loved the Lawn and the Rotunda, the serpentine walls, and the small, tightly organized gardens between the rooms on the lawn and those on the ranges. That September and October of my first year, I felt alienated in a pleasant, dreamy way, as if I'd been transported into an impressionist painting, a Manet perhaps, or a Seurat, something with formal gardens and well-dressed ladies and gentlemen striking elegant poses. My fellow students wore tweed coats, button-down shirts, and brightly striped ties that I'd begun to see were much more tasteful and expensive than the jackets, shirts, and ties my mother had helped me pick out at Leggett's in Wytheville.
Throughout my entire first year at UVA, I never lost my awareness of what a privilege it was for me to be there. About 250 miles north and east of Ivanhoe, Charlottesville felt to me as if it were thousands of miles away. Walking to class on cool, sunlit mornings with my young gentlemen classmates, I felt as if I were at least an ocean and a continent away from the world I had come from.
What was I doing there? In any abstract sense in 1960 or '61 or '62 or '63, I couldn't have answered that question to anyone's satisfaction. But I could have answered it descriptively: I was spending long hours in pretentiously philosophical conversations with my new friends. I was playing pool at the big pool hall down at The Corner, attending fraternity parties, and drinking beer at the Cavalier and the Virginian. And I was attending enough classes and studying hard enough at least to give myself and anyone who might have been noticing the impression that I was a respectable student. And though I probably was acting out of inner necessity, my half-hearted commitment to my studies was very much in fashion: "a gentleman's C" was a phrase I heard almost every day as a kind of decadent goal for a certain kind of UVA student. I didn't aspire to receive "a gentleman's C," but my gradepoint average hovered around a C. I flunked calculus my first try at it, but I got B's in most of my English classes. Mrs. Young's teaching had given me the ability to write essays that were clear and coherent; those papers of mine were less than brilliant, but my professors apparently appreciated the readability of what I had written.
Now that I have been teaching at the university level for twenty-three years, I understand that because of Mrs. Young, I was reasonably well-prepared to face the academic rigors of UVA. But I came there scared; the extremely bright young men I met on my dormitory hallway seemed to me so much more advanced than Fred Hilton and I were, and my professors were creatures of a sort I had never imagined. Nowadays, I suppose country kids can at least see movies and TV programs that give them a notion of what college and university teachers are like, but I had no notion of how anyone whose job was primarily reading and thinking might speak or behave. Having been a professor for twenty-three years, I now see us academic types as a pretty boring lot of rarefied talkers, but in those days, I was in awe, I was intimidated, and I was charmed.
Fred Bornhauser was my first UVA English prof. In every sentence he spoke, Bornhauser was witty—he seemed not able to prevent himself from being funny, especially funny to us first-year men—and deeply ironic. He was the kind of prof whose tangential remarks would deliver their sardonic impact hours or days after he'd uttered them. In my dorm room, yammering away the late-night hours with Fred Hilton, I'd suddenly be jolted by an understanding of what Bornhauser had meant by some mystifying little observation he'd tossed out that morning in class. Many of us first-year men, even some who weren't in his classes but had just heard of him, were smitten with Bornhauser. He was tall, somewhat gangly, extremely tweedy—his button-down shirts had frayed collars, the ultimately fashionable insignia of a UVA man—and somewhat British in his speech and his bearing.
Bornhauser seemed to like us young men, or at least to be interested in and amused by us; he tried to "bring out" our personalities in classroom discussion. I now see that he encouraged us to construct personae for ourselves in his classes—as perhaps for the same occasions, he constructed his professorial persona. I think he called on me when he wanted to hear a voice of "sincerity and common sense." Whether or not I actually brought such qualities with me from Ivanhoe to Charlottesville, I seem to have carried them with me from that first-year English class, when I was eighteen, into my fifth decade.
What literary works do I remember from that class? I've already mentioned that Henry James short story I used to devil my father with during Christmas break. But maybe first and foremost was Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men—and especially a page-long paragraph about what it means to fall in love, how when we fall in love we recreate the actual person we've fallen in love with into "the beloved." It had been just that way, it seemed to me, with me and Kay Barnett. There was also a poem by Ernest Dowson called "Cynara," spoken from the point of view of a faithless lover, addressing the young woman named in the title with a refrain line, "I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion." With the Dowson poem, Bornhauser encouraged us to see (or hear) the speaker's voice as an ironic one, but I was having none of his tricky professorial interpretations. As I read the situation of the poem, this guy had behaved just as I had with Kay Barnett; this guy had committed an indiscretion, and he was sorry about it, but that was just the way he was put together, and he did, after all, care about Cynara enough to try to explain the whole thing to her in this poem.
I had attempted to explain things to Kay in letters and phone calls and many hours of mental conversations with myself over the many months since our breakup. In my loneliest times, I hitchhiked from Charlottesville to Fredericksburg, found a pay phone on the Mary Washington campus, called Kay's dormitory, and tried to persuade her to meet me somewhere—for coffee? for dinner? for just a coke? Sadly and politely Kay told me she couldn't do that, and after the first couple of times it happened, she even stopped coming to the phone. "She's sorry, she doesn't want to talk to you," her friend or roommate would come to the phone to tell me. Rainy afternoons were apparently when I was most often inspired to make those romantic treks; I took my suffering in the bad weather to be evidence of the depth of my feeling for Kay. I'd get back to Emmett House late, cold, and wet—and convinced that Kay was making a big mistake not to see the value of my love for her.
In my essays "Do You Wanna Dance?" and "Ingrained Reflexes," I've written about being a fraternity man at UVA. Nowadays I remember my TKE-house [Tau Kappa Epsilon] experiences with a good deal of embarrassment. Particularly regrettable to me now is how brutally inconsiderate I was toward the women I dated. My constant pining for Kay informed all of my blind dates, and especially the ones that weren't much fun; if I treated a date rudely, it must have been because of the pain I felt over Kay. Also my fraternity brothers relished every instance of a TKE behaving badly toward a woman. But there really were no legitimate excuses for my actions toward women or my thinking about them. I knew better. I had been raised better. Did I not come from a family where the men stood up when a woman entered a room and where a man held a woman's chair for her to help seat her at the dinner table? What was I doing, then, giving my fraternity pin to a girl one weekend and asking for it back the next?
If am embarrassed about my youthful relationships with the opposite sex, I also carry a kind of official shame for the racist climate in which I grew to adulthood. A black woman named Lucy had looked after me when I was a baby and by all reports was affectionate toward me and had done her best to spoil me. My memory of Lucy is dim but very positive. Many years later, when I was fortunate enough to be in an audience at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference listening to Toni Morrison read from Song of Solomon, I felt taken back to my earliest childhood. Ms. Morrison was reading softly into a good microphone that made her voice seem very close; a light breeze from the summer evening wafted into the dimly lit Little Theatre; and I was transported back to a time when Lucy must have held me in her lap on our front porch, softly talking to me or telling me a story or singing to me.
One of the families who lived in Ivanhoe near us Huddles up on Church Hill was that of Uncle Will Washington, who used his mule to plow our garden plot and that of my grandparents each spring. Uncle Will was unfailingly polite and cheerful to all us Huddles, but I don't recall him talking to anyone but Grandaddy Huddle for any length of time. I recall watching Uncle Will plowing and wishing he would notice me and perhaps invite me to come over and pet his mule and talk with him.
My parents conveyed to my brothers and me what must have been an enlightened attitude for that time and place (Virginia in the 1940s and '50s): we Huddles should always try to be kind to Negroes and to set a good example for them; it was our responsibility, as members of one of the good families, to look after them because they were like children. I think the implication was not so much that blacks were innately
inferior to whites but that because of the history of their enslavement, African Americans had not had the opportunity to "mature" as we fortunate whites had.
In the title story of Only the Little Bone, I've written about the delicate racial politics of a car accident that occurred when I was around eight and was hit by a car driven by a black man; that story demonstrates some racial-political awareness on the part of the third-grade protagonist of the story. But I tell myself that, for the most part, as a child and a teenager, I wasn't really aware of the racial dimension of American culture and didn't really think much about racial politics. When I make this claim, I don't know exactly what the ratio of truth to evasion is. I do, on the one hand, remember sympathizing with my father when he expressed anger over "the outside agitators" who came down from the North to make trouble for the South. And on the other hand, I remember feeling deeply uncomfortable over Grandmama Huddle's ranting over "the damn niggers."
Our public schools were segregated; there weren't a great many people of color in our part of Virginia—it never having been a plantation culture—and so I didn't often see African Americans. Sometimes, riding the school bus, we'd see another school bus with the colored kids on it on their way to the other consolidated high school in Wytheville, Scott Memorial. At my high school and among my friends and acquaintances, I did hear racist remarks and jokes, but I don't recall a great many of them. African Americans were, for the most part, invisible to us white people, and in Ivanhoe, Wytheville, and Wythe County, it required very little effort on the part of the whites to keep them invisible. They kept to themselves, and so did we. Virginia's schools were officially "separate but equal." I know they weren't equal, but I can certainly vouch for the separation between black culture and white during my growing up.
One event of my early childhood put me at the center of a racially complicated circumstance. In the Southwest Virginia Enterprise, the county newspaper, my mother read a notice of a play being performed at Scott Memorial High School; something in the notice caught her attention—and I surmise that it was a phrase like "everyone is invited to attend." She decided that we—she, my father, my brothers, and I—should attend. We attended. We were the only whites in the gymnasium-auditorium, in an audience that I suppose must have been more than a hundred. We were treated with elaborate politeness. I was around six or seven, and what I remember most was many brown faces turning toward us throughout the evening. We were looked at and studied, but I remember no hostility, only that we received a kind of frankly curious attention. The performance itself was uninhibited, and the audience response was, by our standards, uncommonly animated. My parents seemed embarrassed, whether from the attention we were receiving or the behavior of the performers and the audience members I'm not certain. But I shared their embarrassment—as if the heat from the back of my father's neck actually flowed through the air from his body to mine, so that the back of my neck was burning even though I couldn't have said why. I remember feeling immensely relieved when we were in our car and driving back home. For many weeks afterward, we held a kind of ongoing bemused discussion of the occasion.
Some years later, I was in a similar circumstance. Jack White and some band supporters from town drove three or four of us serious high school musicians fifty miles across the mountains to West Virginia to hear the Duke Ellington Band play at the Bluefield National Guard Armory. This, too, was an all-black audience, and it was also a dance, a spirited dance, with the most fabulous music I have ever heard. In a short story called "The Gorge," I've written about a transcendent moment from that evening when Cat Anderson, the enormous and powerful trumpet man for that Ellington band, played a solo and pointed his horn down at the edge of the stage where we white kids were watching him and very nearly lifted us through the roof of the building with the force of his playing. On this evening, though I was aware of a considerable distance between the small group of us whites and the several thousand African American audience and band members, I nevertheless felt warmly welcomed to the occasion.
There's a benign quaintness to these instances of racial politics of my boyhood, none more so than on the occasion of my leaving home to go to the University of Virginia. For some reason, my parents couldn't drive me, and when my mother and I discussed the trip I would take on the train, she informed me that most likely there would be a colored porter at the station in Charlottesville who would help me transport the trunk of my belongings to my dormitory. I didn't take her seriously. I suspected that she had read an account of such a thing happening, probably not very long after Thomas Jefferson had founded the university—it had that fairy-tale quality to it characteristic of some of my mother's ideas about life outside of Ivanhoe and Wythe County. But funniest thing, when I got off the train in Charlottesville, as if he had been waiting for me, there was a black man, a taxi driver, who was very willing to give me and my trunk a ride up to Emmett House. My mother had even given me instructions about how much to tip the man, but I knew that she had underestimated the appropriate amount by at least half.
In 1960, the racial climate at the University of Virginia was not what I had grown up with in southwest Virginia. African Americans were visible everywhere around the university and the city of Charlottesville. The sheer proportion of blacks to whites was many times greater than in Wythe County, and I was intensely aware of that difference. Something else was the same, too: even though they were visible, the blacks were also invisible. While the students, the faculty, and the administration of the university were white, the maids, the food-service workers, and the groundskeepers were black. At the time, I didn't tally up who was who or which racial group was doing what kind of work. But I noticed what was evident to anyone—blacks had no say about UVA life, though they labored on behalf of us students and faculty, and administration members. They could, of course, speak to us and walk among us, but we didn't have to give them our full attention.
So even though there were many more African Americans in Charlottesville than in Wythe County, their circumstance, and ours, was essentially the same—except here the injustice of that circumstance was more visible to anyone inclined to examine it. In no conscious way did I examine it, but a level of awareness began seeping into my consciousness even as I settled into the luxury of having my bed made and my room cleaned each morning by the quiet, polite, and efficient gray-uniformed maids of the University Housekeeping Service. I hadn't grown up with servants. Though I kept trying to feel "entitled" to such a life, it never stopped feeling strange to me, being waited on that way.
But I remember defending "the Southern way" to my new Yankee friends at UVA, trying to make them see how benign our racial arrangements were. And maybe this is what I'm ashamed of—that I saw the "system" as being good, being worthy of defending to (and against) the outsiders who didn't understand "how we did things in the South." My perception of "how we did things in the South" was limited to what I have already described as "the benign quaintness" of my (and my family's) experience of racial politics. Lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan were so distant from my personal experience that I did not take them seriously—which is testimony to both my ignorance and my moral irresponsibility.
I must also have at least suspected that the quaint way of life that seemed so admirable to me depended entirely on blacks deferring to whites, blacks "staying in their place." I think my assumption was that their place was a fair and appropriate one for them, because "they were like children": it wasn't yet time for them to claim an equal share of the power and wealth of American society. Like many other southern whites, including the Board of Visitors and the administration of the University of Virginia, I was vague in my thinking about exactly when in history true equality was due to arrive.
I also remember feeling an ambivalence toward Vinegar Hill, the black neighborhood of Charlottesville. The public section of Vinegar Hill, the stores and barbershops and bars, was situated on Main Street between the university and the city, so that we students walked through it whenever we went into downtown Charlottesville. There were a good many people in the street, sitting on stoops or standing outside the shops. Music from the bars and cafés carried out onto the street, where the laughter and talk was often loud and raucous. By my standards (both the Ivanhoe and the UVA versions), the clothes and the haircuts of these colored men and women were outrageous. Often remarks were exchanged between groups of blacks and groups of passing UVA students, but I remember the remarks that came from the blacks as being decorous, or sly, or only mildly teasing. On the one hand I was much drawn to this neighborhood and this publicly social way of life. On the other hand the way the people dressed and spoke and acted offended the sense of restraint ingrained in me by my country upbringing. My parents would have considered these people trashy Negroes. Furthermore, I was a little afraid of Vinegar Hill, even though I never witnessed any act of violence there.
Although one manifestation of black culture, and a rather exuberant one at that, was right there before our eyes, we white boys from the university saw Vinegar Hill as a failure of American culture. (Apparently the city of Charlottesville, the state of Virginia, and the government of the United States saw it similarly; ten years later, Urban Renewal wiped out the area; the buildings were razed; the people were forced to go elsewhere.) We UVA boys were drawn to it, but it embarrassed us. We admired and imitated some of the social gestures of the people we saw there at the same time we held them in contempt, or felt sorry for them, or were afraid of them. For our fraternity party weekends, we hired black bands whenever they were
available; the most sought-after band of all, the one that performed most entertainingly, was called "The Nine Screaming Niggers." At this writing, in 1994, it is almost as hard to believe there was such a name for a band as it is to believe that there were such times as those.
A New York Times writer designated the years from 1960 to 1963 as the "Pre-1960s." Nineteen sixty was when I finished high school and entered the university. That fall of 1963, when the news that Kennedy had been shot came over the radio, I was flunking out of the University of Virginia, and I was hitchhiking to Washington to see a girl I'd met at a fraternity party. I wasn't understanding much of what was happening to the nation or to myself. Having never located any reason of my own for being there to provide me with a sense of direction or purpose, I was at least flunking out of the university on purpose. Within the first month of that semester, I had decided to stop attending classes. A couple of the courses I'd enrolled in were so notoriously easy that I thought I should make certain that I didn't accidentally pass one of them. I attended the exams for those courses and wrote in my blue exam booklet, "Please give me an F for this course."
Nineteen sixty-three had also been the summer I had started working as an orderly at the University of Virginia hospital. Taking the rectal temperatures and shaving the surgical areas of the male patients, emptying bedpans, making beds, lifting patients, giving enemas, running errands, fetching this and that for nurses, doctors, patients, and even visitors—it wasn't a job I liked immediately. It even required me to wear a most uncool orderly costume—loose-fitting white pants and a tight-fitting white shirt jacket.
But after I got used to the work and after I was more or less permanently assigned to the night shift on the floor whose three wings were chest surgery, orthopedics, and neurosurgery, I found myself feeling good about going to work and feeling good about having done the work when I walked back to my apartment at 7:30 in the morning. This was during the beginning of the semester when I was feeling lousy about going to my classes.
It was easy to be of use at the hospital; merely bringing a glass of cold juice to someone who asked for it seemed a tangibly worthwhile thing to have done. Replacing sweaty and wrinkled sheets with fresh ones for someone in traction could make me feel like I had a reason for being alive. I could be cheerful for a whole day after I'd helped a man in a chest-to-toes cast manage a bowel movement in a bedpan. My schoolwork began to seem meaningless, artificial, unnecessary, downright silly.
I began to make the acquaintance of a few other orderlies and nurses and nurses' aides. By comparison, these adults made my fraternity brothers appear spoiled and pretentious. Wallace, my supervisor, taught me how to do the work. No one ever told me what to do with more tact; no one of my acquaintance ever demonstrated more compassion for people who were in pain and afraid. Mrs. Wright, an LPN, was a skinny woman about my mother's age whose patience, skill, sense of humor, and diplomacy made a deeper and deeper impression on me the longer I knew her. In that long, slow stretch of time between 2:00 and 5:00 a.m., she had the most delicate way of talking with me, of inquiring about my thoughts and responding in such a way that I always seemed to learn something from her. She was a deeply thoughtful ordinary person.
It does not speak well for me that I don't remember the first name of the one or the last name of the other of these African American acquaintances of those years, but even after all this rime, I am remembering these people with a clear and powerful admiration. I am still looking up to them.
Most of the orderlies and nurses' aides and many of the nurses and patients at the UVA hospital were black, and while I worked there, for the first time in my life, I had a sense of being among African Americans. In fact, or rather in spirit, I felt more with them than with my fellow UVA students. There were times when I felt close to Mrs. Wright, and from the beginning of my knowing them, she and Wallace conveyed their goodwill toward me. But all our conversations were informed by the boundaries between their world and mine. Neither of them hesitated to remind me of those boundaries. Rather than envying me and desiring what was available to me—and they both seemed very well-informed about what kinds of lives UVA students and graduates led—they seemed to me almost subtly protective of their families, their community, their way of life. It was as if they felt almost sorry for me because I couldn't truly enter their lives. Now and then the sentiment of a moment in our talks might suggest that we should have some contact outside the hospital, but neither they nor I ever voiced aloud that possibility.
That fall and winter and spring of 1963-64, I was doing a great deal of reading—lots of Hemingway, I remember, and a bit of Faulkner, whom I hadn't been able to appreciate when his books were assigned reading for my English classes. I bought a copy of James Baldwin's Another Country—something about the cover must have caught my attention—and I read it while I was on the job on the night shift at the hospital. I described what I was reading to Mrs. Wright and Wallace, who were usually interested in what I was reading, though they both had turned me away from the idea that they might read anything I was reading. Another Country had a powerful effect on me. I don't remember much about its characters or what happens in its narrative, but I remember the fiery eloquence of its prose—the sound of it, the temper of it! Never before had I read a book fueled by that kind of emotion. That narrative energy was in the actual words on the page, I'm certain of that, but at that time in my life I was also tuned to the exact frequency to receive its full impact.
Another Country gave me something tangible, an articulation of the racial circumstance of my country that I could understand and deeply feel. It also embed-
ded in my consciousness a beautiful and disturbing literary work that I aspired to emulate. I wanted to write like that. I wanted to make something like that.
If I were to divide my life into the growing-up part and the grown-up part, the line between the two halves would fall right about there—the spring of 1964, when I should have been graduating from the University of Virginia but instead was working as an orderly at the hospital and reading books that I found on my own and that meant a great deal to me. In a few months I would enlist in the U.S. Army and would be in circumstances where I could call on no one but myself to help me deal with whatever I encountered. I would travel to Germany and go through parachute training; I would volunteer for service in Vietnam and find myself stationed with the 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi, where 2:00 a.m. mortar attacks were a regular occurrence. But in the spring of 1964, whether I wanted to or not, I was becoming a man—doing work the world considered "common" but that I found reward- ing; being among people whose lives weren't conventionally successful but whose contributions to the human community I regularly witnessed; and reading and learning from books that I had assigned to myself. I was just about ready to be on my own.
David Huddle recently contributed the following update to CA:
GOT TO GO TO THAT WAR:
HOW THE ARMY MADE A WRITER OUT OF ME
After the five-minute haircut, I walked in a line of young men through a great warehouse, receiving uniforms, underwear, socks, and boots from supply personnel who were cheerfully contemptuous of us. The transformation from civilian into Army Private E-1 was intended to be at least slightly humiliating. On that day, one of my fellow new troops, a white man, said something or made a face that angered a young black acting NCO who was in charge of the detail to which I'd been assigned. Our mission had been to police up an already perfectly clean piece of military real estate, to walk side by side across a football-field-sized area picking up cigarette butts and small bits of trash. Our acting NCO—not a real sergeant but probably a Private E-2 who'd been assigned to wear a removable sleeve displaying a sergeant's stripes—called the group of us to attention, walked up to the offending soldier and stood directly in front of him. Nose nearly touching nose, the black man spoke loudly and menacingly to the white man while we all stood listening in silence. I remember the black's man nametag read, "McNair," and one of his sentences—which he repeated three times—was "I hope you don't like it." I cite this incident because it was an unforgettable lesson to every one of us who witnessed it—power in the army was determined not by race but by rank.
This was in the summer of 1964—the year I should have graduated from the University of Virginia but had instead stopped attending classes. Though I didn't think of myself as especially spoiled or childish, my first week in the army demonstrated something new to me: my family couldn't help or protect me. I was in a world where harm could come to me and the strangers I was among would not care. Without ever articulating it, I think I'd always felt—even in Charlottesville—that my mother, my father, my grandparents, my brother, my Aunt Murrell somehow stood between the world and me. The army must anticipate that many young men hold this same presumption; basic training is designed to eliminate such mental baby fat from every soldier's personality. Follow orders, do things correctly, pay attention to details, show a good attitude, and the army will allow you to live safely and even grant you a certain amount of freedom. Falter, make mistakes, indulge yourself, and the army will bring you difficulty, punishment, perhaps even harm. That message reached me within the first day or two; I set about the project of constructing myself into a soldier.
In Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, I turned out to be a capable if not distinguished trainee. I liked the mild challenge of military life. Morning runs and sessions of physical training were strenuous, but I kept up and never felt faint. I was proud of the stamina I developed in the long marches to training sites in weapons and hand-to-hand combat; I was frightened and excited by the night-time session in which we crawled across a length of sandy earth underneath machine-gun fire. We disassembled, cleaned, and reassembled our M-14 semiautomatic rifles hundreds of times. We dug holes and trenches, we navigated barbed wire, we bayoneted dummies, we ran through obstacle courses—activities that reminded me of playing games with my brothers around my grandfather's barns and tool shops. Complaining with my fellow platoon members, I secretly enjoyed preparing for and passing inspections of uniforms, weapons, and barracks areas. Least appealing were latrine cleaning, KP, guard duty, area policing, lectures, presentations, and film strips, but even these offered occasions in which I had my thoughts mostly to myself.
In exchange for my three-year enlistment, the government had guaranteed me training at the U.S. Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird, Maryland. With a James Bond notion of what my training as a counterintelligence agent would be like and what my duties would be after I finished, I arrived at the school in the fall of 1964. I was assigned to a class of about twenty-five young men who lived in the same barracks area and who attended classes together. "Glorified clerk" was mostly what we were trained to be. We actually
had classes in typing—even though most of us were already accomplished typists. Like me, all of my class members had attended college; one of our members was a Harvard graduate, another had a degree in English from Amherst. To be accepted into army intelligence, we'd had to pass a test and we'd had to have top secret security clearances in order to receive the training. We were mannerly, smart, eccentric, and innocent in that nice-young-man-from-a-good-family way; we knew about hardship and poverty only from having read about it. Odd lot that we were, we had plenty to talk about, which meant that we enjoyed each other's company, especially at the Holabird Inn directly across Dundalk Avenue from the main entrance to the school.
Intelligence training itself was pretty odd. We spent many hours practicing interviewing techniques and report-writing. Professional actors—civilians employed by the army—took on roles of characters we interviewed in teams of two with the rest of the class watching from an adjacent classroom equipped with a viewing window. The actors were assigned to be problematic, not to give out their juiciest information unless the interviewers asked the right questions and phrased them correctly. For example, instead of inviting "yes" or "no" or one-word answers, the interviewer's phrasing should encourage the interviewee to provide information and narrative. Instead of "Was he a heavy drinker?" the question should be worded, "How would you describe his drinking habits?" After the session, the whole class had to write and type up a report of the interview—which document would be graded very carefully. The facts in these reports had to be accurate, the writing had to be smooth, and the typing had to be error-free. That training was tedious, but if nothing else it taught me patience, gave me practice in converting lived or witnessed experience into language, and schooled me in the fine art of "manuscript presentation."
The Fort Holabird version of a counterintelligence agent was so drastically at odds with the fantasy version most of us trainees had initially entertained that it produced in us a specific variety of irony. We felt contempt for the army for the crude and pedestrian creatures it meant us to become—but we also felt contempt for ourselves for how naive we had been to imagine that we would be trained to carry out dramatically important missions with suave competence. The army demanded both intellectual underachievement and exceptional attention to highly tedious details. We realized we had been fools of one sort, while the army turned us into fools of another sort. This particular brand of irony, with its splinter of self-loathing, helped me survive the next two years of military service. I'm certain that I carried that irony with me into civilian life, and I probably still use it to cope with university, medical, and governmental red tape. One counsels oneself that while "they" are certainly idiots, one is an idiot oneself—and there's a certain wild freedom from responsibility in such thinking.
In those days I was a very conservative young man—a Goldwater Republican is the label I put on it now. My views had come down to me from my family, from my upbringing in Southwest Virginia, and from most of the young men I had known at the University of Virginia, which was an all-male school until 1969. As a student there, I'd had a few Yankee friends and acquaintances who occasionally voiced a liberal opinion, but they were so "marginalized" (as we say nowadays) that they avoided arguments where they were sure to be shouted down and ridiculed. While at Fort Holabird, I discovered Ayn Rand, whose novels galvanized my right-wing thinking. The clarity and logic of her writing made her antidemocratic vision immensely appealing. Fortunately I also encountered a Lieutenant Kellogg in one of the most rewarding of all my army intelligence classes, one that might have been titled "Legal Issues" because it had to do with laws that applied to intelligence activity. Lieutenant Kellogg was a youngish man—he must have been in his mid-thirties—with a sense of humor and highly developed classroom skills. Almost immediately he saw that I was willing to speak up in classroom discussions, that I was eager to set forth my conservative ideas, and that I was easily proven wrong. He even noted with bemusement that I carried around with me copies of The Fountain-head and Atlas Shrugged.
Lieutenant Kellogg wasn't cruel, he treated me respectfully, but he also made excellent use of me to convey his points about the U.S. Constitution, the rights of citizens, the limitations by which intelligence organizations were bound, and the philosophical value of the Bill of Rights. He seemed to invite me to debate with him, he nodded and listened carefully to my comments, he questioned me, and occasionally he'd say something like "But what about ‘the right to a speedy and public trial’?" So even though he revealed me to be superficial in my political thinking, he also made me feel as if I were helping him teach our class. If I were ever to list the three or four teachers who have had the most effect on my life and my career, I'd certainly name Lieutenant Kellogg among them. Not only did he expand my thinking about American "values," he incidentally gave me a personal tutorial in open-mindedness.
In stark contrast with the learned and nimble-witted legal instructor was Master Sergeant "Vicey-Versey" whose speech was riddled with malapropisms and atrocities of grammar and usage. Vicey-Versey's pedagogy for our map-reading classes was classically military—he told us what he was going to tell us, he told us, and then he told us what he had told us. Vicey-Versey had served more than thirty years in the army, had been a veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam; he had little use for or interest in brainy know-nothings like us. Nor did he seem to have a great deal of interest in his subject matter. He simply taught us the rudiments of map-reading in a rudimentary fashion. And my map-reading instructor has also endured as a role-model for me in my own classroom. From that old and badly educated Master Sergeant, I learned the value of "teaching by the numbers." Basic prosody, or verse-writing technique, lends itself to being taught in an extremely elementary and straightforward manner. Nowadays when I assign my beginning poetry-writing students to write two lines of blank verse in class, and I walk around table looking over their shoulders and correcting their stressed and unstressed syllables, I know that Vicey-Versey would approve of my methods if not my subject matter.
I finished intelligence training in February, 1965, and received an assignment to the 66th Intelligence Corps Group Headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. I'd taken three years of German at UVA, and so I wasn't completely unprepared for what I experienced in my first hours in Germany. Even so, I was delighted by my first sight of the city of Stuttgart covered in a light snow on a February morning. I felt as if I'd come to a place where I had a chance at a new life. My first morning at the Headquarters, to complete my paper- work, I met with a personnel sergeant, a large and intimidating man, whose identifying desk sign read, "SGT Lewis Owens—Be Nice To Me Or I Will Kill You." A joke, of course, but one that made a lasting impression, though Lew himself turned out to be a pleasant person. In fact, Lew did me a favor by assigning me to Operations where I was given the job of Case Officer, heady stuff for a Private E-2 straight out of Holabird. It took a couple of weeks for me to understand that my cases were the least interesting in all of Europe, the ones that every other case officer had managed to pass off to the lowest-ranking man in the office. Unless I got lucky, I'd spend the next two-and-a-half years feeling bored and restless. I also discovered that every intelligence-trained soldier in that headquarters had already submitted a request for transfer; such requests were routinely turned down.
Captain Willie T. Brickhouse rescued me. A short, muscular graduate of Virginia Union University, Captain Brickhouse became my supervisor a couple of months after I'd arrived in Stuttgart. A reticent man, he was nevertheless the most competent and considerate officer I encountered during my military service. One late afternoon when I had the opportunity to speak with him alone, I pressed my case to be assigned to a field unit. Captain Brickhouse gave me a hard look and said, "Private Huddle, there's no excuse for anyone to be unhappy." I took him to mean that I should shut up and forget about being transferred out of Stuttgart. As it turned out, he meant that he, too, wanted out of Group Headquarters and that he was willing to help me. The ticket out for me was airborne training, after which I could transfer to a military intelligence detachment that served the two airborne infantry brigades located in Mainz. Captain Brickhouse had become the commanding officer of that detachment.
"Double Zero," a short story I published in the Winter, 1979, issue of Ploughshares details my two weeks at the Airborne Training School at Wiesbaden Air Force Base. The story omits an epiphany that came to me immediately after a particularly ungraceful and painful landing I made—"ass over tea kettle," Captain Brickhouse would have called it—in a German farmer's turnip field. I'd been dragged and flipped over and generally bashed by my parachute in the crisp breeze of that morning, so that when I finally got myself up into a standing position I realized that I didn't really like risk and danger. As a boy, a teenager, and even a young man, I'd had a fair taste for that kind of thing.
Another story published in the Winter, 1978, issue of Ploughshares, "The Undesirable," is based on my experience of wrecking my father's car while traveling at night at more than a hundred miles an hour. That wreck happened when I was fifteen and had had my driver's license for only a few months. This moment in the turnip field, when I was twenty-three, I mark as one of saying goodbye to my daredevil boyhood. After the turnip-field landing, I made several more jumps but not with the expectation that they would be thrilling or that I would have fun. I didn't enjoy the fear that built in me until I was safely on the ground. When it was my turn to stand in the door of an airplane and jump, I did it grimly and dutifully—like a grown-up.
Even with this new maturity, I was still capable of committing the occasional quixotic act. After settling into a job in a field unit that offered an interesting variety of duties, making friends, and learning my way around, I volunteered for service in Vietnam.
My conservative political views had something to do with my making such a rash move. My knowledge of the Vietnam war was based entirely on what I read in The Stars & Stripes, the newspaper for military personnel overseas, and the Armed Forces Network radio station I could listen to on my car radio—I'd saved the 150 dollars I needed to buy an old and entirely undependable VW Beetle. Romantic despair informed my decision to request yet another transfer—my Fort Holabird girlfriend had stopped writing to me, and my German girlfriend had dumped me. ("Save One for Mainz," a story based loosely on the latter relationship appeared in the Spring, 1981, issue of Mid-American Review.) Living by myself, I was at loose ends and drinking hard most evenings. If these factors were the paper and kindling of my situation, the spark that actually lit the fire was a literary experience. The library at Wiesbaden Air Force Base had an extensive collection of fiction, one that did wonders for the education that I'd neglected while a student at the University of Virginia. I was reading Hemingway and Faulkner in those days, and it was a short story of Faulkner's, "Two Soldiers" (originally published in the March 28, 1942, issue of The Saturday Evening Post), that spoke directly to me—"I got to go to that war," says an older brother to a younger, while listening to radio reports of WWII. Though Faulkner intended the sentence to ring with grassroots American patriotism, and I considered myself a sophisticated and ironic man, the words played through my mind through the night after
I stopped reading the story. The next morning I filled out a Request for Transfer form and submitted it to my commanding officer—Captain Willie T. Brickhouse.
I didn't tell my parents I had been assigned to an intelligence detachment with the 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi, Vietnam. For some reason, it was crucial to me to surprise them, and so I did that—made my way home to Ivanhoe, walked into the house and found my mother ironing. Of course I'd duded myself up in my uniform with all the paratrooper accessories—spit-shined boots, airborne insignia on my cap, and wings on my chest. When I explained why I was there, instead of slapping me as she probably should have done, she embraced me and wept for the relief of having me safely at home for a while and the dread of knowing that I was on my way to "that war." I kept the uniform on to present myself to my father and to my grandparents, who were just as impressed as I'd hoped they would be. In "Dirge Notes," the final story in my Only the Little Bone, I've written about this visit home between assignments in Germany and Vietnam. Forty-two years later, I see my appearance in uniform that day as a performance I staged for my family and for myself. They needed to see me at least giving the appearance of an adult almost as much as I needed to see myself that way.
My service with the 25th Military Intelligence Detachment lasted only ten months. Most of my waking hours were spent doing clerical tasks—a lot of typing in sweaty "hooches." But since the army hadn't quite figured out how to use its intelligence units in a war like Vietnam, the 25th Infantry Division experimented with us, trying one thing and another. My duties were wildly various, from long afternoons of "liaison" sitting in Cu Chi's bars, barbershops, and souvenir stalls to "advising" a South Vietnamese intelligence unit in Binh Chanh Province. I also was required to do a little time typing Vietnamese names from intelligence reports into a very early Army computer system. I spent a month or so looking through garbage trucks dumping army waste in a landfill at the edge of the basecamp. One of the wildest projects with which I was involved was that of photographing every bar girl, shoeshine boy, laundry mamasan and papasan, and shop owner in the strip of small businesses that had sprung up between the village of Cu Chi and the main entrance to the 25th Infantry Division base camp. Occasionally I'd be part of a two-man team dispatched out to the field in a helicopter to attend the interrogation of a prisoner who might provide especially valuable information. Among the less dramatic duties I carried out were fingerprinting soldiers who needed security clearances, filling sandbags, putting tin roofs on hooches, and burning shit. The water tables of the land near Cu Chi were such that ordinary outhouses with deep pits would have resulted in outrageous pollution. Thus, the excrement of 25th Infantry Division went into barrel-sized tubs that had to be dragged each morning from beneath special outhouses. In a designated area, those tubs were filled with kerosene and set afire. Passengers in helicopters approaching the base camp could see the plumes of black smoke from this burning from miles away.
Craziness was my overwhelming impression of the Vietnam War. Basic training, Fort Holabird, and Germany had already demonstrated to me that by civilian standards military life made little sense. Joseph Heller's Catch 22 convinced me that the Second World War often seemed insane to the Americans who actually fought in it. I must also acknowledge that my view of the war as a member of a military intelligence detachment was nothing like that of combat troops. But everything I saw pointed to this bizarre incongruity, the behemoth U.S. military attempting to operate in this frail, intricate, ancient, agricultural country. What I saw of my own country's behavior in Vietnam seemed to me profoundly wrong in an almost personal sense—as if the only sensible thing for any of us to do would be to shout, "Hey! We have to stop! This isn't working!"
Within a week of returning to the U.S. from Vietnam, I was sitting in classrooms at the University of Virginia. One of the courses I signed up for was in fiction-writing, and that's when I began writing short
stories about Vietnam. The writing helped me sort through the experience, though it took me a while to take hold of the material that truly belonged to me. The first story that really worked was "Rosie, Baby," about the garbage dump where I'd spent many hours rooting around in trucks in search of letters or documents that might have revealed classified information. I wrote "Rosie, Baby" for Peter Taylor's graduate writing class in the spring semester of 1967, and Peter encouraged me to send it to the Sewanee Review. Andrew Lytle wrote me a polite rejection note. Peter's encouragement and Lytle's note had a tonic effect on me. In the year that followed, while I was a graduate student at Hollins College, George Garrett encouraged me to send "Rosie, Baby" to the new editor of The Georgia Review, James Colvert. Colvert's response was a typewritten, single-spaced three-page letter that offered suggestions for revision. The story—my first publication—eventually appeared in the Fall, 1969, issue of The Georgia Review.
My big "break" was Esquire's acceptance of another Vietnam short story, "The Interrogation of the Prisoner Bung by Mister Hawkins and Sergeant Tree." That story, drastically and brilliantly edited by Gordon Lish, Esquire's fiction editor, later appeared in several anthologies. Because it was first published in the January, 1971, issue of the magazine—the issue that was on the newsstands when I interviewed for a job at the University of Vermont—that story had a lot to do with my being hired to become a creative-writing teacher.
Over the years I've come to understand that my first two short stories made it into print mostly because they were about the Vietnam War. My writing talent was adequate, but I wasn't brilliant. Had I not possessed that Vietnam material, I'd have had to struggle longer and harder to achieve any significant publication. I got lucky. With those two stories in print and with a tenure-track position at the University of Vermont, I was able to claim a writing life. To this day, I feel a strange mixture of pride and shame, exhilaration and guilt, over the fact that my months in Vietnam worked in my favor. I shake me head whenever I think about it. Because I went to "that war," I was able to make a career for myself.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Higgs, Robert, Ambrose N. Manning, and Jim Wayne Miller, Appalachia Inside Out, Volume 1: Conflict and Change, University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN), 1995.
Huddle, David, A David Huddle Reader: Selected Prose and Poetry, Middlebury College Press (Middlebury, VT), 1994.
Iron Mountain Review: David Huddle Issue, Emory and Henry College (Emory, VA), 1993.
Book, March-April, 2002, Paul Evans, review of La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl, p. 75.
Booklist, May 15, 1992, Bill Gargan, review of The Nature of Yearning, p. 1656; January 1, 1993, review of Intimates: A Book of Stories, p. 790; January 15, 1994, Donna Seaman, review of A David Huddle Reader, p. 893; October 15, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of Tenorman: A Novella, p. 384; September 1, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Summer Lake: New and Selected Poems, p. 58; February 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl, p. 922; April 15, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Grayscale: Poems, p. 1417.
Georgia Review, spring, 1987, review of Only the Little Bone: Stories, p. 209; summer, 1989, Fred Chappell, review of Stopping by Home, p. 385.
Library Journal, March 1, 1989, Vincent D. Balitas, review of Stopping by Home, p. 73; April 15, 1989, Vincent D. Balitas, review of The High Spirits: Stories of Men and Women, p. 99; April 1, 1992, Cathy Sabol, review of The Writing Habit, p. 118; November 1, 1992, review of Intimates, p. 120; July, 1999, Frank Allen, review of Summer Lake, p. 94; February 1, 2002, Patrick Sullivan, review of La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl, p. 130.
Massachusetts Review, spring, 1989, Kurt Heinzelman, review of Stopping by Home, p. 155.
New York Times Book Review, September 14, 1986, Meredith Sue Willis, review of Only the Little Bone, p. 40; September 24, 1989, Susan Lowell, review of The High Spirits,p. 9; September 5, 1993, Barbara Quick, review of Intimates, p. 2; October 22, 1995, Abby Frucht, review of Tenorman, p. 37; February 24, 2002, review of La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl, p. 18.
Prairie Schooner, fall, 1990, Judith Kitchen, review of The High Spirits, p. 126.
Publishers Weekly, May 9, 1986, Sybil Steinberg, review of Only the Little Bone, p. 247; April 13, 1992, review of The Nature of Yearning, p. 54; November 23, 1992, review of Intimates, p. 53; July 12, 1993, review of Montana 1948, p. 69; August 28, 1995, review of Tenorman, p. 103; August 2, 1999, review of The Story of a Million Years, p. 71; September 27, 1999, review of Summer Lake, p. 100; December 10, 2001, review of La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl, p. 48.
Emerging Writers Forum,http://www.breaktech.net/EmergingWritersForum/ (March 20, 2002), Dan Wickett, interview with David Huddle; (March 2, 2005), Dan Wickett, interview with David Huddle.