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AN INTERVIEW WITH Bobbie Ann Mason Bobbie Ann Mason Bobbie Ann Mason's short stories have appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and the Paris Review, among others. Her published fiction includes three novels: In Country (1985), Spence + Lila (1988) and Feather Crowns (1993), along with two short story collections: Shiloh and Other Stories (1982) and Love Life (1989). She has been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the American Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Fiction Award. Her other honors include the Southern Book Award, the Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for best first fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Arts Council. She is currently finishing a nonfiction book about her family's farm, to be published in 1998. She lives and writes in Kentucky. This interview was conducted by correspondence over a period of several months during 1997 by The Missouri Review staff. An Interview with Bobbie Ann Mason Interviewer: How did your background, growing up on a Kentucky dairy farm in the forties and fifties, contribute to your becoming a writer? Mason: It was a somewhat isolated social setting, although we lived close enough to town that its pleasures and privileges seemed within easy reach. I suppose the desire to go to town helped make me ambitious , and the allure of the worlds that came in over the radio also helped. But the rewards of growing up on a farm were far greater in many ways than life in town. There is nothing that compares to the familiarity with natural detail: with knowing about grasshoppers, the anatomy of a leaf, the texture of high weeds, the color of a robin's egg. Interviewer: Is that part of the reason you returned to Kentucky, after living in the Northeast for a while? Mason: I moved back to Kentucky eventually for family and cultural reasons. Td returned to nature, so to speak, during graduate school, when I was writing my dissertation about the nature imagery in Nabokov's Ada. I moved to the country in Connecticut and planted my own garden then. Most of the time I was in the Northeast I lived in the country, and I think that helped me to discover my material for writing. Interviewer: So your home, the place you came from, and your interest in nature gave you a lot of material. Were there also ways in which these things gave you the motivation to write? Mason: My motivation to write was complicated: for some reason, probably because I was the first-born, I was treated as special. I lived The Missouri Review . 93 on the farm with my parents and grandparents. I had no playmates as a young child, and I was indulged. I helped my grandmother piece quilts, and we made pretty albums, an old-fashioned pastime. We cut poems and pictures out of magazines. I suppose I had the sensibUity of a writer—the attentiveness to texture and detail and sound, and the desire to learn. But in order to become a writer, I had to rebel against the limits of my surroundings. We weren't poor, but we were well defined , circumscribed by generations of folkways and the rigid expectations of a farm culture. I wanted to get out. I wanted to go places, see the world. This ambitiousness developed at a time historically when it was first possible to leave—to go to coUege, to seek a livelihood other than farm wife. So you could say the early ambition to write was part natural sensibility and part idealism. Interviewer: Was the feeUng of being constricted more intense, do you think, because you're female? Gender roles seem to be a concern in your early work especially. Sam Hughes, for example, is disgusted by her friend Dawn's pregnancy and her own mother's new baby, and she's very aware of the limited—and limiting—potential of her relationship with her boyfriend. Norma Jean, in "Shiloh," is discovering her capabilities in a way that Leroy doesn't understand; he's worried that it's "some Women's Lib thing." Would you say...


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