An Interview with Author Walt Harrington
Walt Harrington was a staff writer for the Washington Post Magazine for nearly 15 years. The Everlasting Stream: A True Story of Rabbits, Guns, Friendship, and Family is his memoir of what he, a city slicker Washington reporter, learned during his many years of rabbit hunting with his rural Kentucky father-in-law and his friends. Harrington is also the author of Crossings: A White Man’s Journey Into Black America, which won the Gustavus Myers Award for the Study of Human Rights in the U.S. His magazine articles are collected in his books American Profiles and At the Heart of It. He is also the editor of two literary journalism anthologies, Intimate Journalism and The Beholder’s Eye. Harrington is currently a professor of journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Q: How did a Washington Post reporter like yourself end up rabbit hunting in Barren County, Kentucky?
A: Far away from Glasgow, Kentucky, I met, fell in love with, and married a young woman who is still my wife, Karen Elliot. Her family hailed from Glasgow, so we began spending the Thanksgiving week there. I soon discovered that over Thanksgiving, in this particular household and community of people, the women pretty much went to the kitchen and started cooking for the holiday, and the men put on their hunting gear and grabbed their shotguns and went out and shot at rabbits.
Q: Was adjusting to their traditions difficult?
A: At first, the visits were simply social obligations. I had to go down there, and, as I say in The Everlasting Stream, I didn’t want to seem like some kind of effete city boy who didn’t want to get down with the menfolk. It was a long process of coming to appreciate, value, understand, and eventually to become friends with these men.
Q: How did you come to join the hunting party?
A: Karen’s father, Alex, won a 12-gauge Browning shotgun in a raffle. And he told himself that if he won the gun, he would give it to me. That way, I could join them in hunting. Later, he said that it really hurt him to have to give me that nice gun. But he did, since he told himself he would, and I began going out with the men hunting.
Q: Did your outlook about these trips change?
A: It was always to me a remarkably stark contrast to come to Glasgow and spend the week there compared to our lives in Washington. My life was so busy with work, which really was important to me, and then my family, that my ability to have meaningful friendships with men was strained. I began to see Alex, Bobby, Lewis, and Carl as something that I had left behind.
At some point, I realized that I would like to tell these men’s story and how meeting them, spending time with them, coming to value and appreciate them and their world, changed my own sense of what was important and valuable to me.
Q: Did writing The Everlasting Stream change your life in some way?
A: I started out wanting to write a small book that would honor these men, and in the process of working on the book, I realized that knowing these men had been part of my own journey. I had begun to integrate into my own experience the friendship, camaraderie, and continuity of life that was, in some ways, missing in my life.
So I tried not only to honor these men for the dignified life that they live, but to also explain how knowing them allowed me to reflect on my own experience. I saw that these men had lessons for all of us, no matter where we live or how we live.
The Everlasting Stream is a 2006 KET production.