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AN INTERVIEW WITH ROSELLEN BROWN Rosellen Brown Rosellen Brown is best known for her novels, including Tender Mercies (1978), Civil Wars (1984) and her recent best-seller, Before and After (1992). She has also published poetry and story collections. A former recipient of a Howard Foundation grant, two National Endowment for the Humanities grants and a Guggenheim Fellowship, she lives in Houston, Texas, where she teaches creative writing at the University of Houston. Her newest book, a collection of poetry, is being published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux this year. This interview was conducted by correspondence over a number of months through January of 1994 by The Missouri Review staff. An Interview with Rosellen Brown Interviewer: Can you tell us about your background, your family, and early influences? Brown: I think my beginnings as a writer were not unlike those of a good many others. I was feeling particularly cast out at a certain point. I was nine, and the writing was a comfort. We had just moved from one coast to the other and I was very lonely in a new school, so I started taking along a secretarial notebook in which I didn't so much confide as create friends for myself, and play with language, right out there on the playground where I thought at the time I was being ignored by the real kids. I'll bet that endeared me to them, this girl sitting under a tree writing conspicuously in her little notebook. Interestingly this was the same year I felt it necessary to re-name myself. I was being called Rose Brown by a teacher too inattentive to notice that my name was actually Rose Ellen. So I began writing it as Rosellen, which has led, instead, to a lifetime of mispronunciation—but that's another story. My sense of who I was or wanted to be was up for grabs, clearly, in this new place, and I can see now that I did an unprecedented, and unrepeated, job of self-creation. A thorough makeover. Interviewer: Would you subscribe to the "writer-as-outsider" theory ? Brown: It's always been pretty clear to me that most writers are slightly mismatched to their surroundings. Nothing original in that; it's the sand-in-the-oyster theory. Whether the discomfort is that of personality, class, family situation, sexuality, whatever, very few seem a perfect fit. So writing begins, very often, defensively. It fills a void. I was a pretty decent artist when I was a kid, and a good musician, with an older brother who became a jazz drummer. Why the writing stuck I can't say. To be honest, I The Missouri Review · 93 often wish Td become a musician. Td rather be doing something nonverbal, something for which you didn't have to be smart so much of the time. My intuition is better than my intellect. Interviewer: But in the end you chose writing over music. Brown: The thing that fascinates me about writing in my own life is that I don't tend to think of myself as very daring or aggressive or even ambitious about anything else. Yet obviously it takes not only a sort of public boldness but a private, deeply held conviction of one's talent and of the world's need or desire to hear your particular voice to make you persevere against so many odds and so much silence. It is my single anomaly, this conviction that I must and would write, and that I would make myself heard. Just think of—oh, I don't know, choose anybody—Flannery O'Connor, Philip Roth, Virginia Woolf, Muriel Spark, Donald Barthelme—I'm intentionally naming very mixed company. It isn't hard to account for the certainty of their calling and the endlessly opinionated vigor of their writing: those are all people full of convictions. But my own fascination with the voices of others, and the pleasure I take in making them up and delivering them before live audiences, are mysteries. I sometimes think it's just that I so enjoyed reading, early on. Although you don't exhaust a book by consuming it, I still thought I...


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