Q&A: Interview with Jim Harrison — August 15, 1997

Recently, the Glen Arbor Sun was fortunate enough to speak to renowned local author and poet Jim Harrison, who lives with his family on a farm in Northern Michigan. Harrison has published a collection of novellas, Legends of the Fall; novels: Wolf, A good Day to Die, Farmer, Warlock, Sundog and Dalva; and collections of poetry. His work has been translated and published in nine languages.

Glen Arbor Sun: How long have you lived in Leelanau County?

Jim Harrison: I have lived in Leelanau County exactly 30 years to the minute.

Sun: Originally, why did you choose to live in this area?

Harrison: We chose this area because we lived in Kingsley a few years before just prior to our going off to teach at a university in Stony Brook Long Island. We had driven up here a few times, thought it was lovely and that the schools were probably better. So when I got two years of grants as a writer we rented a farmhouse and then bought our own small place.

Sun: What positive and negative changes have you seen in the area over the years?

Harrison: On the positive side the grocery stores and the restaurants are better and the local Native Americans are finally in the shape that most closely approximates what they deserve. When we first moved here 30 years ago they were having a real hard time of it and were being treated as poorly as Blacks used to be in Mississippi. On the negative side there are too many people moving in but then I can’t really blame them. It’s also too late for me to leave, plus I have a retreat in the Upper Peninsula and a winter home on the Mexican border. Too many of our recent residents are politically correct rich people who want to change everything.

Sun: Generally and specifically, how has this area influenced your writing? Which of your works are most specifically influenced by the local setting?

Harrison: I’m not sure how this place has influenced my writing as I am not a literary critic. Influences comes in through the pores and we are quite helpless before it. I tend to think regions rather than states or countries. Xenophobia is a dangerous thing. I’ve been to at least 100 locals in the United States where the residents refer to their area as “God’s Country.”

Sun: Do you plan to live here the rest of your life?

Harrison: I’ll probably live here the rest of my life because we have a good garden and a pleasant farm and I don’t want to take the effort to move. I’ve observed that moving like divorce take s couple year piece out of your life and I am not willing to give that much away. Also, right now I’m sitting at a desk in my aide Joyce Bahle’s house and over the tops of the trees I can see Lake Michigan and North Manitou Island. We shouldn’t forget that such views are rare indeed, especially in the Midwest.

Sun: Of everything you have written, what are you most proud of? Which is your favorite?

Harrison: I don’t have any particular favorites among my work. Books become your children and you don’t play favorites.

Sun: What type of project are you working on right now and when can we expect to see it out?

Harrison: Right now I’m writing a novel I intended to write when I wrote Dalva so it involves a lot of the same people. As usual, it’s about love and death and the natural world.

Sun: Which of your works were/are being made into films? Are you happy with those films: why or why not?

Harrison: Revenge, Legends of the Fall and Farmer have been made into movies. I also wrote a movie called Wolf which only related to my novel of that name in as much as I wondered what the character would be like when he got older. Unfortunately, the director turned my glorious wolf into an ornately clipped poodle.

Sun: What kind of advice do you have for young writers who want to venture into a writing career?

Harrison: I don’t have any advice for young writers except to be careful of your aspirations as writing requires your entire heart and soul and lifetime. Must you do this? I mean do you have to do it? The market is crammed with sincere nitwits at present.

Sun: Which genre do you prefer to work in: poetry, fiction, essay writing, or screenplays and why?

Harrison: I don’t have any preferences as to genre. I write what comes to me and tend to be called upon by poetry and fiction. Screen writing is a livelihood that takes place in the belly of the beast but then there’s no sense in whining about tax problems or I’d sound like those unfortunate souls called Republicans.