National Book Award finalist Rick Bass to speak as part of Norwich University Writers Series
If you could invite your mentors to dinner, even if some of them were famous, whom would you invite? Sounds like a fantasy scenario, but it became reality for Montanan and author Rick Bass, who will visit Norwich’s campus next month as part of the Norwich University Writers Series.
Bass will speak at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 10 in the Kreitzberg Library’s Todd Multipurpose Room. The event, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by the Norwich University Writers Series, the College of Liberal Arts' Department of English and Communications and the Center for Global Resilience and Security.
“I didn’t like that (the mentors) didn’t get to read them. It got me thinking I should go tell them in person and just make a nice meal for them.”
— Rick Bass, author
Bass, a member of the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Master of Fine Arts program’s faculty, has taught creative writing for more than 30 years and has written more than 30 books. His work has earned O. Henry Awards, Pushcart Prizes and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.
His 2003 short fiction collection, “The Hermit’s Story,” was named a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year; his 2016 collection, “For a Little While: New and Selected Stories” won the Story Prize. His 2009 book, “Why I Came West” was a finalist for the National Book Award for autobiography.
Bass’ stories, articles and essays have appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Washington Post and elsewhere. He has served as a contributing editor to Audubon, OnEarth, Field & Stream, Big Sky Journal and Sports Afield.
Bass’ most recent nonfiction book, “The Traveling Feast” (2018), chronicles the author’s pilgrimage to thank the writers who influenced his life and work — Peter Matthiessen, Denis Johnson, John Berger, David Sedaris, Joyce Carol Oates and Terry Tempest Williams, among them — by cooking them supper.
Bass told Boise State Public Radio in March that “The Traveling Feast” was born partly from frustration. He’d want to discuss authors who’d inspired him with students, but often found the students hadn’t read those authors.
The book, he said, let him share those authors’ treasured texts with students and a wider audience and tip his hat to his mentors before they died.
“As you get older, you start losing your mentors, and you end up writing nice reminiscences or obituaries or elegies,” he said in March on Boise State Public Radio’s “Reader’s Corner” program. “I’d gotten to the point where I’d written a couple of those and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that (the mentors) didn’t get to read them. It got me thinking I should go tell them in person and just make a nice meal for them."
Although some authors, particularly Oates, met him in restaurants, others let Bass arrive on their doorsteps toting pots, pans, processors and food. Sometimes, getting the fixings to their destination was tricky. Bass told Cincinnati Public Radio in August 2018 that he had to sneak elk meat past officials from the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration and British customs on his way to Sedaris’ house.
In the spirit of mentorship, Bass took aspiring young writing students, past and present, of fiction and nonfiction, on these trips so they could talk writing and editing and learn along with him.
Mentorship mattered to Bass because mentors helped him develop. He wrote, submitted and was rejected often, he said, but adapted. Every “no thank you” let him build relationships with editors; if a rejection said his work lacked depth, or plot or pace, he’d work to add those elements.
Bass, who lives in Montana’s Yaak Valley, told Cincinnati Public Radio that being shy has helped him as a writer; outsiders to any group, he said, sometimes have wider perspectives.
“Then, when you find your path to go into the subject, you take it,” he told the radio station. “You spend a little extra time investing in listening and looking and watching and absorbing all the five senses. … It’s kind of like being a backseat driver. You get to see more.”