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Friday, February 24, 2017

On the Plains, in our hearts

“Writers who aren't from rural states in the Midwest or the West often treat such people as if they were the Waltons or the Beverly Hillbillies.”— Kent Haruf

The son of a Methodist minister who was born on this date in 1943, Haruf grew up in Colorado and lived almost his entire life there until his death in 2014.  Haruf's award-winning novels take place in the fictional eastern Colorado town of Holt, roughly based on the “Plains” city of Yuma, one of his residences. 

Among his many  rock-solid novels, award-winners The Tie That Binds  (the Whiting Award and a special Hemingway Foundation/PEN citation) and the amazing Plainsong are perhaps the best to cite when talking about what it was that made his writing so special.   I first caught on to Haruf when my friend (and award winning author in his own right) Verlyn Klinkenborg told me about discovering Plainsong.   Later, Klinkenborg reviewed it, saying, “(It’s) a novel so foursquare, so delicate and lovely, that it has the power to exalt the reader.”  Plainsong won the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award and the Maria Thomas Award in Fiction and was a finalist for the National Book Award.

I never got to meet Haruf but did meet his wife Catherine at the Colorado Book Awards and heard more from her about Kent and his writing. Shortly before his death in Salida, Colorado, where he spent his latter years, he wrote,  I'm attempting to                         
broaden my novels' scope through landscape and weather.  Leaves falling off trees, overnight storms, timeless elements which, irrespective of human endeavour, have always been there and, as long as there is life and snow, will always be there.”

For those of us like Haruf – and Klinkenborg, and myself – who grew up on the Plains, there is much about which to write, but few who can properly handle it.  Haruf was among the very best. 

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