Jim Harrison Talks Writing

Posted on December 22, 2005

The Book Standard's Kimberly Maul interviews Jim Harrison, the author of Legends of the Fall, the set of three novellas that was the inspiration for the feature film starring Brad Pitt. Harrison is now a finalist for the Story Prize, for The Summer He Didn't Die (Atlantic Monthly). He talks about how his environment affects his writing and gives some advice to aspiring writers:

"It's the locations that I know, like the Northern Midwest. I wrote a couple novels out of Nebraska-one called Dalva and one called The Road Home. I currently live in Montana-that's where Legends of the Fall came from-and now I live down on the Mexican border in the winter, so I go to Mexico a lot. None of this would have happened if I had become a professor, but I didn't like it. I tried it for a year and a half, and it drove me crazy. I don't want to teach anybody anything. Everybody's got to figure it out for themselves. That's my attitude anyway."

"Just read all that is good and then write. I'm shocked when I go around giving lectures, how little some people have read in these M.F.A. programs. It's pretty startling. How can you know how to write unless you've read the best? That's my attitude anyway. But it's partly that our educational system sucks, so there you are. For every good university, there are 100 colleges that aren't much good at all."

We're not sure which MFA and English programs he's talking about: many of them make students read quite a bit. Of course, not all students do the reading. But it's certainly good advice to read widely.

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