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AN INTERVIEW WITH LEWIS NORDAN Lewis Nordan Lewis Nordan's books include Music of the Swamp, Wolf Whistle, The Sharpshooter Blues and Sugar Among the Freaks. A native of Itta Bena, Mississippi, Nordan earned acclaim with his landmark novel, Wolf Whistle, which won the Southern Book Critics Circle Award and other national prizes. His last three books have all won Best Fiction Awards from the National Library Association and his novel, The Sharpshooter Blues won this year's Literature Award of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. In early September of 1996, Nordan appeared as a guest of the River City Writers Series at the University of Memphis. During this visit, he participated in the foUowing interview conducted by Mark Ledbetter and Russell Ingram. The River City Writers Series, sponsored by the Creative Writing Program of the University of Memphis, is in its twentieth year of presenting award-winning American and international authors to the people of Memphis and the Mid-South. An Interview with Lewis Nordan/Russell Ingram and Mark Ledbetter Interviewer: On a certain level, most good writers seem to be obsessed with telling the same story throughout their fiction. They keep returning to a story again and again, trying to illuminate it, make some sense of it. One of the constants in your fiction is a consuming interest in the difficult relationship between fathers and sons. At the same time there is a repetition of imagery throughout your work. For example, in The Sharpshooter Blues, in Wolf Whistle, in "The Wheelchair," and in others, the reader encounters versions of this refrain: the water is Uke a black mirror, colored by the tannic acid that seeps from the knees of cypress trees. What do you believe is the essence of your elemental story? Nordan: The story I'm telling can be summed up in the very image you just mentioned, the mirror-like water in that lake. When I was a boy I would look down into the water and know its depths held scary things, like those big ol' aUigator gar as long as our fishing boats. The water held beautiful things as weU, bluegUls and crappie, but none of it was visible. When you looked into that water, all you saw was yourself and whatever was behind you, like the trees or the clouds. What I am doing in the elemental story I mean to tell is to have each character face the mirrored water, and before the end of the story be beneath its surface to confront all of its joys and all of its terrors. Interviewen Would that include the joys and terrors of the relationship between fathers and sons? Nordan: That's right. A lot of what is explored under that strange water is the father-and-son relationship. I approach this difficult and beautiful relationship because of my own fathers, both a stepfather and a natural father, and because of my own sons and my relationship The Missouri Review · 75 with them. A compelling and I would say essential element of my story comes from the death of my father when I was eighteen months old. I didn't ever get to know him. I have only one picture of him, and in that picture he's holding me as a child, and I am not looking at him, I'm looking off somewhere else. Maybe I was looking for a movie contract . (Laughs.) From the picture of my natural father, I got the only image I have of him—a hat on his head, shading his eyes. He's a man of mystery to me. I have no memories of him, so he's a blankness in my experience. My mother remarried when I was about eight years old to a man who I called "Daddy," and upon whom the characters of fathers in my stories are all based. He loved me and told me so every night before I went to bed. This man was also, in some ways, very unavailable to me. He had problems with alcoholism, he was a distant, shy man. My mother spent some time protecting me from aU the outside world, including him. And so, all...


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