An Appreciation: Author Kent Haruf – His Novel “Plainsong” Launched “One Book, One Bedford”

By Meredith McCulloch

Kent Haruf in the Multi-Purpose room at Town Hall during a "One Book, One Bedford" event. Courtesy image
Kent Haruf in the Multi-Purpose room at Town Hall during a “One Book, One Bedford” event. Courtesy image

Kent Haruf died November 30 at his home in Salida, Colorado. Bedford people will recall that he visited Bedford in June 2004 to speak about his novel Plainsong.  It was chosen for the launch of the Bedford Library’s first “One Book, One Book” program, in which everyone was encouraged to read a single work. Haruf’s talk drew over 140 people to the Multi-Purpose Room at Town Hall, many of whom had read the book and attended a discussion about it.

The library staff chose Plainsong because the small town, Holt, Colorado, in which it was set echoed the small-town life found in Bedford, though admittedly Bedford was even then more affluent. When wooing Haruf to come at a fee the library could afford (thanks to a state grant and the Friends of the Bedford Library,) we stressed the parallels between Holt and Bedford, each a small town, once a farming community with a railroad running through it, kids with paper routes, and a close, caring community.

Plainsong includes the stories of several characters in Holt and their intersections.  The people you meet there include two young boys, Ike and Bobby, whose depressed mother abandons them; the elderly McPheron brothers who live isolated lives on their farm on the edge of town; and young Victoria whose mother throws her out when she becomes pregnant.  Each character is well drawn and the reader comes to know and love them.

Haruf liked to tell that he wrote with a knit cap pulled over his eyes so he could focus entirely on the words. That description is easy to believe for his writing is very straightforward, deceptively plain, but authenticated by detail.  Plainsong was his first work to receive national acclaim and it was a finalist for a National Book Award. Following Plainsong and Eventide he wrote Benediction, continuing the Holt Colorado story. Before his death he completed a final novel, Our Souls at Night, which will be published in 2015.

Haruf’s wife and first editor Cathy came with him and we offered transportation from the Renaissance or Stouffers, or Doubletree Hotel, or whatever it was called at that time. My husband John and I picked them up gave them a brief tour of the town, and on to Town Hall. During that short ride and the return, we learned that they were warm and generous people. It was a privilege to meet them.  At the end of the library program Kent and Cathy were presented a gift basket of Bedford products – locally produced soap, honey, a Bedford railroad mug, two sets of Wristies and a copy of The Bedford Flag Unfurled by Sharon McDonald. Haruf’s visit was truly a highlight of that year and many in Bedford will long remember him.

Editor’s Note: The author, Meredith McCulloch, was Director of the Bedford Free Public Library from 1992-2005.


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