Monday, May 9, 2011

The Monday Interview -- Hugh Fox

Hugh Fox was born in Chicago in 1932 and is one of the founders (along with Ralph Ellison, Anais Nin, Joyce Carol Oates, and Buckminster Fuller) of the Pushcart Prize for literature. He is a poet, novelist, archaeologist, and has published over 100 works, including Depths and Dragons, Home of the Gods, and Approaching /Acerando (poems written in Portuguese in Brazil, translated into English when Fox returned to the United States).

“ . . . a new sound built upon Whitman, Hart Crane, Ginsberg and Snyder that swirls into a kaleidoscope of American life, personal and public.”
“Reading Hugh Fox . . . is a bit like getting on a bus with a ticket you’ve no idea to where, you are jostled, take some wild curves, have breath-taking vistas, get to where you’d never expected sometimes dazed, shaken up, sometimes laughing, never bored, always a little different than when you began.”
Lyn Lifshin, poet and literary critic
“Like Charles Ives, like Herman Melville, Hugh Fox is an American original. There is no one else writing like him today.”
Richard Morris

How is REUNION different from your other novels?

I think that stylistically it's more "classical comedy" + tragedy/life-overview, kind of like Waugh, Aldous Huxley, Dickens, the English novelists I was bathed in when I wrote REUNION. I used to read Huxley especially every day, immerse myself in British contemporary satire/confessionalism. I think it gets more to the heart of the matter (a vision of the shortness of life) more than any other novel I've ever written.
What are the difficulties and pleasures of writing?

The biggest difficulty I have with writing (especially poetry) is saying the same thing (although in different ways/styles/language) over and over again. Especially now that I'm dying of cancer (the latest judgment is that I have one more year above ground) and I keep thinking of total blankness, non-ness after death. No longer a believer in afterlives, just zeros. And my Czech Jewish grandmother still obsesses me, my growing up in Chicago, my years in South America, the Andes, my archaeological discoveries, my three wives, all my old poet-musician girlfriends/lovers. Such a rich past is hard to escape from when you sit down to write. My greatest pleasure, at the same time, is precisely the same thing -- time-travel, vision-travel back to my multi-dimensional, art-filled, love-filled, travel-filled past.

When did you know you were a writer?
I guess I knew I was a writer when I was in high school and one of the Irish Christian Brothers (Totally Roman-Irish education in Chicago), told me when I was beginning my senior year, "Fox, you and your Irish-English tweeds, your whole immersed-in-the-arts world-view, your word-dexterity, I want you to be editor of our newspaper, what do you think?" So there I was writing editorials, A+'s in all my English classes, then at Loyola in Chicago getting published in the magazine CADENCE, slowly moving away from pre-med and medicine (which my parents had forced me into) to get an B.A. and M.A. in English literature, a Ph.D. in American Literature, a total immersion in literature, spending Saturday afternoons talking about lit (Hemingway especially) with my pal, Joe Moag, who became a professor of lit at Northwestern University, then in 1968 in Berkeley meeting the whole world of contemporary poets and editors at a literary get-together that created COSMEP, an organization of small, literary presses all over the U.S., getting to know everyone in the lit game.

What's a work day like for you?

I get up exactly at 8:30, have my anti-cancer breakfast (created by my M.D. wife), and go to my e-mails. Usually letters from Lynn Strongin, a magnifique poet out is Victoria, B.C., crippled (polio) and close to the end of the line, but writing poetry like crazy, maybe a letter from poet Richard Krech in Albany, California, Lo Gallucio in Boston, a poem by John Bennett every day, every day a letter from my daughter Alexandra's father-in-law in Ohio (we became "brothers" last year), maybe a letter from poet Kathleen Burgess also in Ohio, letters from editors taking or rejecting my work. Then I copy the poems I wrote the night before during a concert/recital in the music department at Michigan State (nightly concerts/recitals, classical, pop, folk, you name it), off to lunch with my wife and daughter Alexandra, my ex-wife, Nona, and granddaughter Beatrice, then home, a little siesta, and I plunge into submissions, trying to get my last 20 unpublished novels, books of poetry, books on archaeology, lit criticism, etc.  published. My wife gets home from the hospital where she's a pathologist (originally from Brazil), and we go over to Alexandra-daughter's place for an exotic dinner, then off to Schubert, Stravinsky, Brazilian percussion bands, a choral concert in a local cathedral, you name it, home, shave, watch WGN news, the weather channel, a film (the latest THE VISITOR), then try, try, try to sleep...usually making it into three or four hours a night, most of the night thinking about death and no afterlife.

What's a day off like for you?

Usually breakfast at home, then out for coffee with my wife where we meet my daughter Alexandra, granddaughter Beatrice, son-in-law Ray Barker (an archivist at the U. of Michigan library in Ann Arbor), post-office, a visit to my paranoid schizophrenic daughter, Cecilia, who lives with her mother (my first wife, Peruvian poet Lucia Ungaro de Zevallos) just a few blocks away, an afternoon ride into the glorious country, then dinner, a play, ballet, another concert.

If you could be anything other than a writer, what would you be?

The first thing that comes to mind is a classic ballerina like Maria Tallchief, the ballerina who was the heroine of my life when I was growing up in Chicago studying violin, opera, piano, music composition, art...and never missed a ballet performance at the Civic Opera House or anywhere else in the Chicago area.

Any advice for new writers, especially those considering self-publishing instead of taking the traditional route to publishing?

Find new, brilliant publishers, genius-types who are starting new presses. The older presses (many of them) are like oldsters with arthritis and canes, looking for comfort more than anything else, on the edge of quitting everything. But the brilliant new publishers are still visionaries, optimists, full of infinite energy and belief in the future of publishing, even in debt-ridden, falling apart America.

How do you define success?

What I'd really like is to be an immortal, like Shakespeare or Dickens or Whitman, being read in American lit classes 500 years in the future, books like my novels and collected poetry in every major library in the U.S., and translated into Czech, German, French, etc., my novels turned into classic films, my books on archaeology part of pre-Colombian archaeology classes everywhere. Not too modest, but full of hopes.

What's next for you?

Simply death, hanging on to life the best I can, hoping the strange chemotherapeutic foods my wife feeds me will attack the tumor in my bladder and I'll have a few more years above ground, not just one year, what my oncologist predicted this week. Maximize the Present, accept the Nothingness of the future.

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