Interview Wednesday: Five Questions About William Stafford

Today I am honored to have Kim Stafford answering five questions about his father, William Stafford. Kim has been instrumental in the preservation of his father’s writing. He is currently the Northwest Writing Institute, which I had the privilege in attending the summer institute in 1994.

MsMac: How did the cultural and physical landscape of the northwest influence your father’s work?
: William Stafford was born in Kansas, and the prairie was always his ideal landscape—lots of sky, and few obstacles to the long view. He once said that “Oregon’s alright—except the mountains and the trees get in the way of the scenery.” If you look at his poems, though, two very different kinds of landscape appear: the wild (forest, mountains, deserts, rivers, storms, nights, lonely outposts) and the suburban (neighbors, daily routines, local news, human connections like family and friends).

MsMac:Tell a story that defines your father’s role as a parent.
: We were driving somewhere. He started telling a story he had found in a novel, an old one—he couldn’t remember the title. The main character really wanted something. I can’t remember what it was, perhaps a partner, a kind of success. But he did not get what he wanted. The story went on, many detours, much wandering. Eventually, by unanticipated means, the main character achieved his goal. “Life can be like that,” my father said. Only much later did I suspect he made the whole thing up to teach me patience with the ways of destiny.

MsMac: What stance would/did your father use when working with children?
: He had a proverb: “Nothing’s too bad for the kiddies.” This meant the kids will get along one way or another. Of course, he loved us. He was devoted and engaged. But this love was not expressed by extravagance.

MsMac:Whenever I get stuck in my writing, I think about how your dad would give himself permission to “lower the standards.” Do you have a quote of his that you come back to again and again?
: Someone once asked my father, “What is your favorite thing you ever wrote?” His first response: “I love all my children.” But then he added, “I would trade everything I’ve ever written for the next thing.” To me, this says that loyalty to the next adventure of writing is more important than any kind of “success.” Real success is to sustain the sense of free and entrancing exploration of what lies ahead in writing.

MsMac: What do you notice as you look back on your father’s life?
: I have written a book in answer to this question: Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford. He was by turns gregarious (teacher, friend, “life of the party”) and solitary (rising before dawn, writing alone daily, “the wanderer”). The thread that bound this variety was his attention to what he called “seeking,” which included close engagement with human life, and also devotion to something beyond.

MsMac: How has your father continued to live on?
: My father is gone, but he left word…left words…left 20,000 poems, and a legacy of welcome to everyone who wishes to try the way of the writer.

Thank you, Kim. By the way, readers, I highly encourage you to explore Kim’s work as well. Go explore “what lies ahead in writing”.