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December's Book
Clear Springs
by Bobbie Ann Mason
In Her Own Words
Quotations from Bobbie Ann Mason


The following profile of Bobbie Ann Mason was written for KET’s Signature series showcasing contemporary Southern writers. It is adapted from the teacher’s guide to that series.

Mason recalls that, early in her life, “I knew I wanted to be a writer.” She was drawn to the study of Nabokov’s fiction in part because, while living away from Kentucky, she felt sympathy with his identity as a writer in exile (as a Russian living in the U.S.). Also, she “learned a lot about image patterns from him.... He would write about sunlight coming through leaves, dappling the leaves.... To me it’s just astonishing, the infinite experience of observing patterns of light and shadow, the intricacy of our experience of the physical world.”

In discussing her own early work, Mason once told an interviewer, “I think the surface is the reality.” To another she said, “My characters live in a world in which television and popular music are an intimate part of their lives, and I take that seriously.” In explaining her focus on physical details in her stories, she concluded, “I’m trying to portray a world of some people who are aspiring to a better life for themselves, and I think I’m trying to understand them on their own terms and not judge them.”

Mason had started In Country as a short story in which a minor character’s “strangeness” was attributed to his experience in Vietnam, but she expanded the story as she became more interested in the veteran. She read books about the problems Vietnam veterans faced on their return to the U.S., and she visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. The main characters of In Country want to see the memorial because it provides an “image of healing for them,” she once said. “It’s a small thing in a way, but it’s the only thing they can find.... I’m not responsible for solving the aftermath of the Vietnam War. I can only record the way it’s affecting people in these characters.”

Once, while still living in Pennsylvania, Mason said of her Kentucky background, “I think it was necessary to get a lot of distance on it in order to be able to ... write the way I have written.” But, she concluded, “I’m at the point where ... I could go there on my own terms now.... I get reinfused by visits home.”

After moving back to Kentucky, she wrote Feather Crowns, which she feels offers “basically a positive view of life.” Of the confrontations, losses, and learning that the mother, Christie, undergoes in the story, Mason says: “Even though she went through extreme challenges, she came out of it with her integrity and her sense of herself. That’s really the challenge for a person.”

 

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