Kathryn Starbuck

recorded in Tuscaloosa, AL

 

Kathryn Starbuck

I’m Kathryn Starbuck and I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and I’ve been here for 20 years.


The Knox Writers’ House

How did you get here? Where are you from originally?


Starbuck

I was born in Iowa, in a small farm town in Northern Iowa. I grew up there and moved as a senior in high school [laughs]


KWH

[laughs] That’s awful.


Starbuck

It was brutal. It was a brutal move to Santa Monica, California, to a high school that was bigger than Algona.


KWH

Oh, how could your parents do that?


Starbuck

Oh, because they didn’t know anything. They didn’t know any better. Neither of my parents had even gone to school, you know. My father was an immigrant, a Greek immigrant, and my mother, she was an American, but I guess she went just through 5th grade, and they just didn’t know any better. And Santa Monica High was where Rebel Without a Cause was filmed. It was such a traumatic year, I almost didn’t graduate because I almost never went to school. I immediately got a job at the Broken Drum restaurant in Santa Monica, and I would just work. And I didn’t want to go to college and I only went to college for maybe six weeks, I guess.


KWH

In California?


Starbuck

No, I went to Antioch College in Ohio. But it didn’t take. I hated school. I always hated school. But it was just a terrible year out there. I hated California. So I lived out there for a year, but I got a great job out of Antioch. I got a job because I was a wiz typist. I got a job at the Associated Press in Washington D.C. I was a Whit House dictationist. It was a fabulous job.


KWH

So what did you do?


Starbuck

It means that the reporters would call from the White House with the news, and in fact, one of the essays that I’m publishing is about that job. Because I forgotten about it, of course. It was 50 years ago. And I remembered that job –it was the most fun job. I would sit at my manual typewriter with my headphones on and –do you know what foolscap is?


KWH

No.


Starbuck

It’s that cheap typing paper, 8 ½ by 11 typing paper, and I’d always have my typewriter set up with typing paper in it, and the bell would ring and that would mean that the reporter had his story from the White House, and he’d dictate. And one or two deskmen would be standing behind me and it’d say, “President Eisenhower said today,” and then they’d rip the paper out and then they’d start editing it, and I’d put another sheet of paper in, “That the Russian’s can’t get by with this,” and they’d rip it out, and then it would go out over the wire.


KWH

Wow.


Starbuck

Well, I was a really good speller, and the whole time I was there, I misspelled two words that they didn’t catch. One of them was Khrushchev [laughs] –


KWH

[laughs] That’s a hard word.


Starbuck

It has three h’s in it, not two. And the other one was, “Today, Soviet Trawlers in the Eastern Ocean…,” and I put “Soviet Crawlers” and the deskmen didn’t catch it, and they teased me about it, and I said, “Well I’m from Iowa! We’ve got a lot of crawlers! How am I supposed to know? You guys are the editors and the deskmen, how the hell am I supposed to know?” I was seventeen or eighteen years old and I felt immortal.

Dream Song 14 by John Berryman

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