Joseph Harrington

recorded in Lawrence, KS


Joseph Harrington

This is Joseph Harrington on Lawrence, Kansas. What brought me here was I got offered a job [laughs] teaching at the University of Kansas, and it seemed like a pretty nice place, especially in terms of writing. It’s gotten to be more and more lively since I’ve been here, which was 15 years ago. Lawrence has always had a kid of literary ambiance to it. Walt Whitman, in Specimen Days, talks about it, about coming through here and apparently he had a gig in Topeka, which he blew off so he could stay in Lawrence, which is [laughs] kind of a typical story. The beat writers used to come through here a lot, it’s sort of midway, and if you’re going through on I70, which was the first interstate, then it’s a convenient place to stop off. Our MFA program has attracted a lot of really good writers, and it’s not New York City, but there’s a real critical mass of people here, and people know each other, and there’s a great diversity of writers here. Those are all things that I like about the place.

The Knox Writers’ House

Do you think there’s a Midwestern voice or aesthetic in writing right now?


Well, is there a Midwestern or regional anything? That’s the real question. Especially in this era of mobilization. There’s an interesting book that came out a poets from the South. And, you know, there’s this sort of corn pone version of what a Southern writer should be, you know—gothic and y’all and Louie May—and not all Southern writers fit into that mold. And I think the same is true of Midwestern writers. I’m thinking here primarily of poets. That you’re writing sort of plainspoken poetry about the soil and so on and so forth, or William Stafford is the prototypical Kansas poet for some people. But the fact of the matter is, there’s a huge variety of styles of poets who are from Kansas or in Kansas.


Do you think place affects your writing?


Well, I think my environment does. Because of the internet and the media and so on, a lot of things are similar in a lot of places. I don’t know how different I would feel as a writer here versus in Memphis, where I grew up. That’s not a very smart answer but that’s the best I can come up with right off the top of my head. I think you get a much more representative view of the US when you’re here than when you’re on the coasts. There’s this wide swath of the US between the coasts, and that’s where most of the people are. There’s a certain kind of pared down, American stuff going on there. I’ll just put it that way. [Laughs.]


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