Michael Pritchett

recorded in Kansas City, MO/KS

 

Michael Pritchett

My name is Michael Pritchett, I teach fiction writing here at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. I’ve lived in and around Kansas City all my life. I happened to luck into a job in my hometown, which is a very strange thing that almost never happens. The interesting thing that comes of that is that you spend the rest of your days running into people that you knew in high school in your writing classes, running into their kids in your writing classes. I’ve had my high school swimming coach in one of my workshops; I sometimes sit in meetings with a high school English teacher who taught at my high school. So, I think that has had an effect on me as a writer. And has had something to do with why I’ve become a historical fiction writer. I am very connected to the place that I come from. I’ve stayed in my home town and I know its history because of the fact that I’m almost 50 years old, so I’ve actually witnessed a half century of its history. I think that I began to become interested in the origins of this place, the fact that there’s a Shawnee Indian mission here in town that was basically the only thing in town in, say, the year 1830. This building, that you can still go and look at, was the only thing sitting on this spot and it was just wilderness around it. And that got me interested in the Lewis and Clark Expedition because it came through here at about that time. And I’ve not only lived here, but I went to school at MU, and I also went to school briefly at UMSL, in St. Louis, and the expedition started in St. Louis, so I’ve basically lived along the Missouri River all my life. That also attracted me to the story.


The Knox Writers’ House

Do you think there’s a Midwestern voice or aesthetic?


Pritchett

I do. I think that there’s a tendency, on the part of my students, in particular, to write rural stories, even though they may have never actually been anywhere near a farm, because they feel some sort of an obligation to do so, coming from the Midwest. Like that’s what they should be writing about. So I do feel there’s sort of a Midwestern thing where you’re supposed to write about losing the farm, you’re supposed to write about wanting to get out of the small town, you’re supposed to pick these particular types of subjects and I think that does create a kind of style or a particular aesthetic approach to storytelling. And it’s one that I’m generally trying to shake my students out of, and say, “You may be doing this because this is a tradition that you’ve got yourself locked into, and maybe you want to think about rebelling against the tradition and do something else.”


KWH

So you don’t include yourself in that tradition?


Pritchett

I don’t, really. I started out in that same sort of mindset, that if I live in the Midwest, I really ought to be writing about rural people, and I’m a male writer so I should really be writing about manly pursuits. I should be writing about hunting. So the writers that I found early in my career that really spoke to me were writers who were writing that kind of thing. Like Richard Ford and Thomas McGuane, these writers who were writing from a more, not so much a Midwestern, but more of a Western perspective. I had lived in Denver and gone to high school in Denver for a couple of years, so I was able to fit myself into that category, and make it fit. But I wasn’t terribly comfortable there. So as soon as I could get out of it, I began writing more urban, big city kinds of stories. And trying to deal with what’s going on right now in the present moment, particularly with regard to male/female relationships. I write a lot about love relationships and marriages and I guess all of the changing attitudes that we have, the way that our gender roles are changing. I write a lot about that. And I really like to write about mental illness because that’s something that has evolved as something we can talk about, something that’s not as taboo as it used to be, something that isn’t so shameful to admit—that you have some sort of mental disorder or have suffered one. I like to write about those things. But at the same time, when I sit down to write about those things, and write about them in a contemporary voice, I find that I tend to sound a lot like everyone else who’s writing about those things, and that became very frustrating to me, that I couldn’t really look at my stories and say I’m really unique in this way, because, really, my stories did not seem unique, they seemed like the stories that I would read whenever I judged a contest. I felt like I was writing like everyone else, so I thought, “How can I do something that other people are not doing,” and I think that the thing that I decided was, what I want to do is I want to write in voices that are not like the voices that I’m hearing right now in contemporary American fiction, I want to write in voices that either we’re going to be speaking in in the future or voices that we have spoken in in the past and decided to stop speaking in.

from Second Skin by John Hawkes

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