Today we interview Louis Bourgeois, author of The Gar Diaries, about his memoir, poverty, and his friend and mentor, Barry Hannah.
Tell us in thirty words or less what The Gar Dairies is about?
Thematically speaking, it’s a fairly simple book about a boy who loses his arm and attempts to re-invent himself through poetry.
Who is the intended audience and why should they read your book?
I wrote the book for fellow outcasts such as myself so they would know they were not completely alone in the world, perhaps, even, not completely hopeless.
The Gar Diaries has been described as brutally honest. Such writing has a tendency to challenge what the reader is comfortable with. Was this a conscious decision, to challenge the reader?
I will have to say the brutality of the book was not a conscious decision on my part. I was merely recalling the events of my first 30 years of life (and re-feeling the events) as I experienced them.
The Gar Diaries is also beautifully poetic. How has being a poet influenced the style of writing in this book?
Well, the book was intended to be a long prose poem, but, alas, stories began to emerge from the poetry, and the poem was ruined. All prose is degenerate poetry, and that’s what happened here.
Why did you decide to write The Gar Diaries?
I wanted to see how much I could remember. It’s as simple as that.
For our European readers who may be unfamiliar with gar fish, can you explain what they are, and why your book is named after them?
The gar fish is perhaps the oldest species of freshwater fish on the North American Continent. When I was growing up on the bayous and lagoons of South Louisiana, they were an all pervasive presence: I seemed to have developed an early fixation on them judging by their recurrence of garfish in The Gar Diaries. I think it also serves as a metaphor for that primordial part of ourselves that no matter how hard we try, we just can’t overcome. For Europeans, I would just say think about a sturgeon and that will give you some sense what a gar is all about.
You published a compilation of essays on the great American writer Barry Hannah by those that knew him – “A Short Ride: Remembering Barry Hannah”. How do you remember him? And how, if at all, did he influence you as a writer?
Barry Hannah was a friend and mentor of mine while I was a graduate student and Instructor of English at the University of Mississippi here in Oxford. His personality was grand, his writing often potent. To be brutally honest, he didn’t have much influence on my writing: he was from the upper bourgeoisie of Dixie Land, I am from the lower strata of that region–we had different agendas to follow. He could afford to laugh at life, I was too poor, I couldn’t afford to laugh.
What book are you currently reading?
I’ve been reading a great deal of prison literature…prison may be the final frontier of the literary avant-garde.
You’re executive director at VOX Press – can you tell us a little bit about VOX?
I established VOX to give my fellow wayward contemporaries a place to go. Those of us inherently locked out of trade presses and university presses.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have some smaller collections of poetry and stories that I’ve been piecing together for sometime now. I’m also working on assembling my Collected Works.