Tom Lorenz

recorded in Kansas City, MO/KS

 

Janus by Ann Beattie

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Tom Lorenz

I’m Tom Lorenz, I live in Lawrence, Kansas. I’ve lived here for well over 20 years now, by way of Chicago and Ohio—I lived in Cleveland for a while. I’ve written mostly about places I lived before, rather than Lawrence, but I’m writing, now, a little bit more about Lawrence. I think I need to be in a place a long time before I feel I can write about it in a way that’s not super self-conscious, where it can just come out, where it’s more part of your fingers and your skin and your subconscious, as well as the conscious things you know about it. Writing comes a lot from those other places that you’re not so self-conscious about. I think Lawrence is a great place to live. We’ve got a great writers’ community at the University. We have our MFA program now, but we have a really wonderful undergraduate program too that we’re really proud of. There’s a lot of writers that live in town that are novelists or storywriters or journalists and a lot of them are my friends. It’s a good writers’ community; it’s a good arts town in general. I’m told the music scene is really good, but I’m way to old for that now.


The Knox Writers’ House

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


Lorenz

I don’t know. I think you could talk about the obvious things—a kind of earnestness, a kind of plainspoken, and maybe that’s still true, I guess I’d have to think about it a little bit to think if it were still true. There’s a friend of mine, a novelist, who hasn’t lived in Kansas for a long time, but he likes to talk about Kansas or Midwest Gothic. He likes to talk about the dark underside of the wholesome image of the Midwest. I think about Plainsong, that novel by Kent Haruf, and i think there’s still something to an earnestness or plainspokenness in the Midwest, or in Midwest writers.


KWH

Are you positive that it used to be true?


Lorenz

[Laughs.] Maybe I’m just responding to the myths that people have about the Midwest. This state, Kansas, people have all sorts of myths and assumptions about Kansas. It’s one of the mythical states in the country, really. When you think about this part o the country, you think about Kansas. You don’t think about Nebraska or the Dakotas or anything, because Kansas stands for things, in some ways. Well, the movie, obviously, and all of that. There’s a real, strong image that Kansas has and I don’t know whether that applies to writers or not. Maybe they go against that sometimes too. Anne Beattie writes about New York and Connecticut, and she’s from Washington D.C., and I can’t imagine her stories being this way if she came from Kansas.


KWH

Do you include yourself in that?


Lorenz

Not really. I think since I’m from Chicago, I think of myself more as a more of a city writer, I guess. Maybe Chicago has a kind of identity too, for writers. There’s been an awful lot of good writers there, but they range from Saul Bellow to Studs Terkel, so I don’t know what that Chicago writer means. I tended to write about the city and about working class people, so in that sense I may be a Chicago writer.


KWH

Do you think living in a rural place has given you a greater mental expanse?


Lorenz

Oh yeah, I think so. That’s why I’m really interested in starting to write, now, about this area. I think that anything that you do, if you live in a place long enough, if you think about it, if you absorb some of its rhythms, some of the characters, some of the settings, it’s going to affect you and deepen you as a writer. Maybe not right away, but it will probably come out in your writing at some point and make it different and make it better. Although, you can think of plenty of writers who just wrote about the same settings or same patch of territory for their whole careers, and they were awfully good too. But I think it’s good to branch out. I think good writing comes from a great degree to just knowledge. Knowledge of place, knowledge of  an area. I think the more you know, the better your writing is going to be, in various ways.

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