Inspiration: Kent Haruf

There’s nothing I love more than an inspirational story, and one of my favorites involves Kent Haruf. He’s the author of Plainsong, which was an Oprah book, and several other lovely novels.

Haruf wrote an essay for Granta, titled The Making of a Writer, and that’s where I came across his story.

He was born with a cleft lip, in a time and place where there wasn’t much to do about that. His parents were religious. They found a doctor to operate on him, but when the doctor died in a plane crash, they decided it was the will of God that their son deal with this affliction, with the result that he was teased a lot. He writes that he came to think that perhaps those years of unhappiness and isolation and living inwardly to myself have helped me to be more aware of others and to pay closer attention to what others around me are feeling. Which are good things if you are trying to learn how to write fiction about characters you care about and love. 

At some point, Haruf decided he wanted to study at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, but that was not an easy proposition. Iowa was and is one of the most prestigious schools for writers in the world. He sent in his application and was rejected. He applied again, but this time, he moved to Iowa. He took a job as a janitor in a nursing home. In retrospect I think I was accepted sort of on probation and out of astonishment – to think that someone would move to Iowa with his wife and baby daughter in the middle of winter with no money and with no job, that person must be desperate. And I was. I was desperate to learn how to write fiction.

Haruf’s story took many more twists and turns before he wrote the book he wanted to write, but I love thinking about how he flung his whole self into it. He was desperate to learn how to write, and he did.

Do you have any inspirational stories you’d like to share?




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