Peter Streckfus

recorded in Tuscaloosa, AL

with Heather Green

 

Peter Streckfus

I’m Peter Streckfus and I am living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.


Heather Green

I’m Heather Green and I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, too.


The Knox Writers’ House

How’d you get here.


Streckfus

Well, I got a job here. I’d never lived in this region of the country at all, but I have cousins who are from east Texas, so it felt like I was just visiting my cousins for a long time. So that’s what brought me here. I came from California, so in many way’s it’s like living in a foreign country, living here in sort of the center of the Deep South, in some of the best ways and some of the more difficult ways.


KWH

How long were you in California?


Streckfus

On and off for six years, in the San Francisco area. I love the food here. Speckled lima beans, butter peas, all these things I’d never heard of before, being a vegetarian for 20 years. I love okra. Heather doesn’t like okra [laughs].


KWH

You don’t like okra?


Green

I only like it cooked certain ways. And also we had a little bit of an okra overload this year.


Streckfus

Yeah, with the CSA.


Green

Yeah, we ate pounds and pounds of it. So I didn’t really dislike it till after that. I like when Peter makes dry skillet okra, which is like an Indian spice okra that’s not slimy [laughs].


Streckfus

Yeah, yeah. And the history is moving to me. Like we were saying earlier, the region feels haunted to me. It feels like it holds a story that’s integral to the entire country, but is refused by most of the county. The history of slavery, the history of the Civil War, bloody and brutal and painful. Open wounds are evident, I think, still. But that’s moving to me, to see people make good lives in that. And also for people to be able to speak frankly sometimes. You meet people who will speak frankly about what it means to them to be here. I feel very naïve talking about it, actually, it’s a little uncomfortable for me to talk about. What do you think?


Green

Well, I got here through a kind of circuitous path. I’d been going to graduate school in Boston, then I came to Tuscaloosa to do a work project, and I’d been here a few time sin the past to work for the same company. And the first time I came I was actually scared to visit here, because I had this idea that the South was going to be a place where I just wouldn’t fit in at all. But then after I first visited, I realized that it’s a warm place in some ways. And then after I decided to stay here, I’ve been acclimating to it very slowly. Before this, I grew up in California and then I lived for a long time in Nebraska, and then in Boston—a few different times living in Boston—and I felt really at home in all of those places, and I really loved all those places, so deeply, and I haven’t felt any such connection to Alabama yet, I feel like I’m kind of sneaking up on it, and I’m waiting for those moments where I feel like I love it here. I don’t feel like I’m completely at odds with it either. It’s been a learning experience. It is like being in a different country.


KWH

What’s it like to be a writer here?


Steckfus

Well I found always that I write about a place after I leave it, so for me this has been a place where the quiet has been important to me because I’ve had a chance to think about things that have been important to my life outside of being here. And also just knowing so many other writers has been really nice. Those are the two things that come to mind. I started riding the train a lot. Tuscaloosa is on a train line, so that’s nice.


Green

There’s a great writing community here. Definitely, that’s the best thing about living here, going to hear so many great readings and events, like the thing Joseph was organizing with Slash Pine and the reading series that they have at the University. It feels like almost every week there’s some kind of event and if we go to it, it’s usually pretty inspiring. That’s something that makes me feel really lucky, since I came here totally out of the blue, unrelated to even the writing program, that I just fell into a place like this that has that richness.

Inferno-Purgatorio, Section IV by Dante Alighieri [trans. by Jean and Robert Hollander]

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