Anthony Bukoski responds to Randall Ivey

I enjoyed Randall  Ivey's article on William Goyen. The House of Breath is one of my favorite novels. Given my regard for Goyen, it’s hard to believe I’d forgotten meeting him in September 1970.

I was attending a reception for new graduate students in English at Brown. Goyen was preparing for the world premiere of one of his plays at the Trinity Square Repertory Theatre in Providence and had been invited to attend the reception. At the head of the room, the Director of Graduate Studies in English sat semi-recumbent on a fainting couch, her feet up, a glass of sherry in hand. I’d worn a sport coat appropriate to late, not early fall, and a white pullover shirt with wool in it—too warm for a room without air conditioning. I also smoked a corncob pipe. Mr. Goyen, a Texan accustomed to heat, appeared comfortable in his surroundings.

As a Marine Corps and Vietnam War veteran and a recent graduate of Wisconsin State University Superior, I was the one out of place. Brown was different from the college back home. What to do but have another beer when Mr. Goyen came over? A fellow graduate student who’d left Tulane to study at Brown told me who Goyen was. “What’s the name again?” I asked Mr. Goyen peremptorily, yet with nothing on which to base my arrogance and self-assurance, the products of social anxiety and personal insecurity. I don’t recall what else I’d said, but I realized Mr. Goyen had no use for me.

Four and a half years later at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, John Irving, perhaps sensing a similar longing for home in my work, recommended The House of Breath to me. So much had happened in my life since the evening at Brown that I’d put out of mind my meeting the author. The House of Breath? Is that what you said?” I asked Irving, a Goyen fan. The novelist and short story writer Shirley Ann Grau, whom I’d met in New Orleans a few times, was another fan.

Strange as it seems, by the mid-1980s, I still hadn’t made the connection between the writer I’d met in Providence and the writer whose beautiful book I was recommending to friends. Only one of the four or five friends ever finished reading the book, though that doesn’t matter. I’ve read it enough times. I know its beauty and wonder, its poetry of place and placelessness and loneliness.

Once on the way north from Louisiana, where we’d taught at Northwestern State in Natchitoches, my wife and I stopped in Champaign, Illinois, to visit a friend from the Workshop days. Though he hadn’t read the novel, he’d got the Twayne’s United States Authors Series book on Goyen from the library. There it stood on the bedside table in Champaign, waiting for me. Fifteen years after our meeting, I realized whom I’d met when I read in the timeline of Goyen’s life that, if only for a minute, I’d been with him in Providence in the Fall of 1970.

The House of Breath is calling me again. It is always with me in life.

Anthony Bukoski lives with his wife outside of Superior, Wisconsin.  He is the author, most recently,  of the short story collection, The Blondes of Wisconsin (University of Wisconsin Press, 2021). 


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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

1 Response

  1. Raymond Olson says:

    OK! Now I’ll read William Goyen. Not right away, but soon.