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Barnes and... A Conversation with Shirley Abbott

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STEVE BARNES: HELLO, EVERYONE. THANKS VERY MUCH FOR JOINING US. SHIRLEY ABBOTT IS HAT ABBOTT'S DAUGHTER. HE WAS A BOOKIE OR BOOKMAKER IN THE HOT SPRINGS OF ANOTHER ERA. HE AND THAT ERA WERE RECALLED IN THE SECOND OF HIS DAUGHTER'S FOUR BOOKS, THE SECOND OF THREE MIM WIRES OF GROWING UP IN GARLAND COUNTY IN ARKANSAS IN THE SOUTH. ON SHE WENT TO WHAT IS NOW TEXAS WOMEN'S UNIVERSITY, THEN TO FRANCE ON A FULBRIGHT, AND THEN LIKE SO MANY OTHER SOUTHERN WOMEN OF LITERARY AMBITION, TO NEW YORK. BUT SHIRLEY ABBOTT CONSIDERS HERSELF STILL A SOUTHERNER AT HEART, SO EVERY SO OFTEN SHE COMES HOME, AS SHE HAS NOW. ONE OF THE THINGS THAT BRINGS HER BACK TO ARKANSAS THIS TRIP IS THAT FOURTH BOOK, THE NEW ONE, HER FIRST NOVEL, THE FUTURE OF LOVE. SHIRLEY ABBOTT, THANKS VERY MUCH FOR BEING WITH US.

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: A PLEASURE.

STEVE BARNES: FOUR BOOKS, NOW A NOVEL. WHY SO LONG?

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG TO WRITE FICTION?

STEVE BARNES: WHY DID YOU COME TO FICTION AFTER THREE MEMOIRS?

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: PART OF THE REASON MUST BE WHILE I WAS IN COLLEGE, FICTION WRITING SEEMED ALMOST A PRIESTLY CALLING. PEOPLE TALKED ABOUT THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, AND I THOUGHT YOU HAD TO BE NORMAN MAILER OR SOMEONE TO TACKLE A NOVEL OR YOU HAD TO BE HEMINGWAY OR YOU HAD TO BE FITZGERALD. I GUESS I WAS REALLY WORSHIPFUL OF FICTION AND FICTION WRITERS, AND IT ALSO SEEMED A KIND OF MALE ACTIVITY. THAT MUST HAVE BEEN IN THE BACK OF MY MIND SOMEWHERE, AND WHEN I STARTED DOING WRITING, NONFICTION SEEMED TO COME MOST NATURALLY, AND WHEN I STARTED WOMENFOLKS -- THAT'S MY FIRST BOOK -- AND I WOULD LIKE TO SAY THAT I'M ALSO VELMA ABBOTT'S DAUGHTER, AND IT WAS VELMA WHO WAS THE ARKANSAN AND GAVE ME MY ARKANSAS ROOTS. HAT WAS A YANKEE. HE CAME FROM INDIANA, AND HE NEVER CONSIDERED HIMSELF A SOUTHERNER.

STEVE BARNES: BUT VELMA WASN'T THE BOOKMAKER?

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: NO, HAT WAS THE BOOKMAKER. ANYWAY, I'M GETTING ALL GARBLED UP HERE. WHEN I STARTED THAT FIRST BOOK, WHICH WAS ABOUT THE SOUTHERN WOMEN AND MY MOTHER'S SIDE OF THE HERITAGE, I STARTED IT AS FICTION. I WAS GOING TO TRY TO WRITE THE STORY OF MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER AS FICTION. AND I PUT IN SOME TIME ON IT, AND IT GOT WORSE AND WORSE. I SAID I'M NOT A FICTION WRITER. I'VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING ELSE. EVENTUALLY, WITH A LOT OF HELP AND VOYRS FROM FRIENDS, I KIND OF DEVISED A MEMOIR THROUGH HISTORY FORMAT, AND IT WAS -- ONCE I LEARNED TO DO IT, WHICH TOOK A LOT OF YEARS, I WAS COMFORTABLE WITH IT AND IT WORKED VERY WELL, AND THE BOOKMAKER'S DAUGHTER, I THINK IT WORKED A LITTLE LESS WELL IN LOVE'S APPRENTICE BECAUSE LOVE'S APPRENTICE WAS REALLY PART FICTION AND WAS NOT SO TIED TO PLACE AS THE FIRST TWO BOOKS. AND THEN I GUESS, FINALLY, AFTER THOSE THREE MEMOIRS, I WAS READY. I THOUGHT, WELL, IT'S REALLY TIME TO TRY TO TEACH MYSELF TO WRITE SOME FICTION. SO THAT'S WHEN I TACKLED THE NOVEL. AND IT WAS -- IT WAS -- IT WAS A TOUGH EXPERIENCE, AN INTERESTING EXPERIENCE. IT'S REALLY VERY DIFFERENT TO WRITE FICTION. I WAS RIGHT TO BE AFRAID.

STEVE BARNES: ON BEHALF OF EVERYBODY WHO IS WATCHING THIS PROGRAM WHO WANTS TO WRITE A NOVEL AND HASN'T, WERE YOU AFRAID OF WRITING A NOVEL?

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: I WAS AFRAID. I WAS AFRAID BECAUSE, AS I SAY, SOMEWHERE IN THE BACK OF MY MIND, I THOUGHT OF IT AS A HOLY CALLING, AND -- BUT ALSO, I'M -- YOU KNOW, I'M AN ENGLISH MAJOR, I'M A RESPECTER OF CRAFT, I'M A RESPECTER OF FORM. I LOVE NOVELS AND BOOKS OF ALL KINDS, AND I THINK YOU OUGHT TO BRING -- BRING YOUR WHOLE MIND TO IT. AND SO -- BUT IT WAS JUST HARD FOR ME TO MAKE THINGS UP BECAUSE I'D ALWAYS BEEN TRYING TO WRITE THINGS THAT WERE TRUE, AND IT DIDN'T COME NATURALLY TO ME AT FIRST TO -- TO INVENT A STORY. BUT THAT WAS THE FUN OF IT, THEN, THAT WAS THE CHALLENGE.

STEVE BARNES: THIS NOVEL BEGAN -- IF I UNDERSTAND IT CORRECTLY -- BEGAN TO TAKE SHAPE IN WHAT ARGUABLY WAS THE FIRST DAY OF THE WAR IN WHICH THE UNITED STATES NOW -- THE PHILOSOPHY ON 9/11 OR BEGAN TO CRYSTALLIZE?

YEAH, I HAD BEGAN TO FOOL AROUND WITH THESE CHARACTERS. I HAD CREATED A KIND OF CAST OF CHARACTERS, AND I WOULD JUST -- WHEN I SAT DOWN TO WRITE, I WOULD WORK WITH ONE CHARACTER OR ANOTHER CHARACTER AND TRY TO GET THEM TO THE POINT THAT THEY TOOK ON A LIFE OF THEIR OWN. BUT THERE WAS NO FOCUS TO THE BOOK. I HAD SOME NOTION OF WRITING SOMETHING ABOUT AN ELDERLY LOVE AFFAIR, TWO LOVERS IN THEIR LATE 60s, EARLY 70s, AND I HAD SOME NOTION OF WRITING ABOUT HOW THE LEGACY OF FEMINISM HAS MADE THINGS DIFFICULT IN SOME WAYS FOR YOUNG WOMEN, LIBERATION HAS BROUGHT ITS COMPLICATIONS. AND -- BUT I WAS JUST SORT OF WAITING AROUND AND ALL THAT. AND THEN WHEN 9/11 HAPPENED, IT GAVE ME A FOCUS. I MEAN, NOT THAT VERY MINUTE, BUT DURING THE YEAR FOLLOWING, AS I KEPT WORKING ON THESE CHARACTERS, I THOUGHT, YOU KNOW, THIS IS SUCH AN EVENT, AND WHO -- HOW COULD I POSSIBLY WRIT ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE BUT THIS, AND -- WRITE ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE BUT THIS, AND THEN I BEGAN TO SEE HOW 9/11 AND THE START OF THE WAR HAD CHANGED THE TEXTURE OF LIFE, ESPECIALLY IN NEW YORK, BUT ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, AND I THOUGHT, I'M GOING TO TRY TO GO AFTER THAT AS A SUBJECT. SO THAT'S WHAT I DID, AND THAT HAPPENED.

STEVE BARNES: IT WAS UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL. THAT MORNING YOU COULD SMELL IT, COULD YOU SEE IT --

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: I WAS VERY CLOSE. MY LITTLE APARTMENT ON PERRY STREET, I MEAN -- IT TAKES PLACE ON PERRY STREET IN A VERY DIFFERENT APARTMENT. I WISH I HAD THAT APARTMENT INSTEAD OF WHAT I'VE GOT, BUT YEAH, IT'S ABOUT A MILE FROM THE WORLD TRADE CENTER, AND I OFTEN WALK DOWN THERE IN THE MORNING, JUST FOR PLEASURE, AND WAS ON MY WAY DOWN THERE THAT MORNING WHEN THE PHONE RANG, AND A RATHER LONG CONVERSATION, AND THE FRIEND I WAS TALKING TO HAD HER TV ON AND SAID, OH, MY GOD, A PLANE HAS RUN INTO THE WORLD TRADE CENTER, AND WE BROUGHT THE CONVERSATION TO A CLOSE AND I RAN OUT ON THE SIDEWALK, AND I COULD SEE IT. I COULD SEE THE FIRE. AND THE CITY SUDDENLY ALMOST BEGAN TO CRY. SIRENS WENT UP FROM ALL OVER. YOU COULD HEAR THEM FROM EVERY DIRECTION AS THE CITY GEARED UP TO MEET THIS DISASTER, AND FIRE TRUCKS WERE WHINING AND CALLING FROM ALL OVER, AND AMBULANCES, AND YOU COULD FEEL THE REGULAR SOUNDS OF THE CITY JUST STOPPED. AND I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON DOWN THERE. OF COURSE, LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE, YOU KNOW, ONE PLANE RUNS INTO THE BUILDING, YOU THINK THERE'S BEEN SOME REALLY MASSIVE MISTAKE AT SOME AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL CENTER OR SOME PILOT HAS GONE AND HAD A HEART ATTACK OR SOME CRAZY THING HAS HAPPENED. THEN WHEN THE SECOND PLANE HIT, YOU KNOW IT'S WAR, AND THE APPREHENSION GREW, AND I WAS TEMPTED TO GO DOWN THERE, BUT I'M NOT THE SORT OF PERSON WHO, YOU KNOW, GOES AND WATCHES BUILDINGS BURN, AND I FIGURED IT WAS GOING TO BE PRETTY ROUGH DOWN THERE, AND IF I DID GO, I WOULD ONLY BE IN THE WAY AND I MIGHT GET HURT. BUT I COULD SEE IT. AND I WALKED OVER LATER THAT DAY TO MY OFFICE ON LOWER BROADWAY, AND NOBODY WAS DOING ANY WORK, BUT I JUST FELT I HAD TO GO OVER THERE. IT SEEMED LIKE THE NORMAL THING TO DO. SO I WENT OVER FOR A FEW MINUTES AND HAD A VERY CLEAR VIEW OF WHAT WAS GOING ON. BY THE TIME I GOT OVER THERE, THE BUILDINGS HAD COLLAPSED. BUT IT SEEMED VERY CLOSE. AND THE AIR STANK, AND EVERYBODY WAS REALLY FRIGHTENED. IT WAS A TERRIFYING TIME, THOSE DAYS.

STEVE BARNES: THE CITY ALMOST BEGAN TO CRY.

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: YEAH. YES, YES, THOSE --

STEVE BARNES: DID YOU CRY?

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: OH, YEAH. IT WAS HORRIFYING, AND THEN AS THE NEWS CAME THROUGH AND YOU FOUND OUT WHAT HAD REALLY HAPPENED, AND AT FIRST, YOU KNOW, THEY WERE SAYING THAT MAYBE 30,000 PEOPLE HAD DIED, AND WE EXPECTED THERE WOULD BE ANOTHER PLANE THAT WOULD HIT THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING OR WE DIDN'T KNOW WHAT. YOU KNOW, WE WERE EXPECTING THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE TO GO DOWN. THERE WAS TALK OF -- OF, YOU KNOW, THE SEAWALL UNDER THE WORLD TRADE CENTER, THAT IT WOULD BREAK AND THE HUDSON RIVER WOULD FLOOD THE SUBWAY SYSTEM, AND THERE WAS NO PHONE SERVICE FOR A WHILE, AND ELECTRICITY WENT OFF. IT REALLY DID SEEM LIKE THE END OF THE WORLD. YOU REALLY FELT THE CITY HAD BEEN BOMBED. AND VERY QUICKLY, WHOLE SECTIONS OF THE CITY WERE BLOCKED OFF AS THE FIREFIGHTERS AND POLICEMEN TRIED TO COPE WITH SOMETHING THEY HAD NEVER HAD TO DEAL WITH BEFORE. AND THEN, OF COURSE, WHEN THE TOWERS COLLAPSED, IT DID SEEM LIKE THE END OF THE WORLD. AND FOR DAYS THERE, NO ONE HAD ANY IDEA HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE DEAD. AND THE STRANGE THING WAS -- I LIVE CLOSE TO ST. VINCENT'S HOSPITAL, JUST ONE OF MANY HOSPITALS IN NEW YORK, AND THEY DCBS SET UP CAMERAS -- THEY -- CBS SET UP CAMERAS AND AN ANCHORWOMAN THERE, AND THE DOORS TO THE EMERGENCY SECTION WERE OPEN, AND THERE WERE DOCTORS STANDING THERE IN THEIR GREEN SUITS WAITING FOR AMBULANCES TO COME, AND LINES OF BLOOD DONORS -- WOULD-BE BLOOD DONORS -- FORMED ALL AROUND THE BLOCK, PEOPLE LINING UP TO GIVE BLOOD. AND THEY STOOD THERE AND THEY STOOD THERE, AND THERE WAS NO NEED TO GIVE BLOOD BECAUSE NO INJURED EVER CAME. NO AMBULANCES EVER PULLED UP TO THE EMERGENCY DOOR OF THAT HOSPITAL BECAUSE EVERYBODY -- ALMOST EVERYBODY DIED. THERE WERE VERY FEW SURVIVORS. SO IT WAS A BLACK DAY. A BLACK WEEK.

STEVE BARNES: AND SHIRLEY ABBOTT, THE WRITER, IS TAKING ALL THIS IN.

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: TRYING TO. IT'S HARD BECAUSE YOU'RE JUST SHIRLEY ABBOTT, THE CITIZEN, THE SCARED PERSON BREATHING IN ALL THIS STUFF. BUT YOU CAN'T -- YOU CAN'T HELP LOOKING AND THINKING AND TAKING NOTES AND WONDERING, YOU KNOW, HOW TO PUT IT ALL TOGETHER. AND IT WAS, YOU KNOW, TERRIBLE TO SEE THE SUFFERING. BUT IT WAS WONDERFUL TO SEE -- NEW YORK IS THE KIND OF PLACE WHERE IF YOU HIT IT A HARD BLOW, EVERYBODY STARTS PULLING TOGETHER, AND THEN YOU CAN SEE THAT HAPPENING.

STEVE BARNES: AND FROM ALL THAT PAIN, ALL THAT AGONY AND ASH AND TEARS, CAME A SENSE OF FOCUS FOR YOU?

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: CAME A SENSE OF FOCUS FOR ME, YES, A MINOR GAIN, BUT AT LEAST FOR ME IT HELPED ME SEE -- IT -- I MEAN, I KNEW SOMETHING -- SOMETHING MAJOR HAD HAPPENED, SOMETHING DIFFERENT FROM ANYTHING I'D EVER LIVED THROUGH. OF COURSE, I WOULDN'T DREAM OF TRYING TO WRITE ABOUT WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO LOSE FAMILY OR BE A FIREFIGHTER'S WIDOW OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT BECAUSE I DON'T KNOW AND I WOULD FEEL INTRUSIVE TRYING TO WRITE OF TRAGIC EXPERIENCES LIKE THAT, BUT I JUST WANTED TO WRITE ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS AT THE GROUND LEVEL TO ORDINARY PEOPLE WHEN AN EVENT LIKE THIS OCCURS IN A BIG CITY.

STEVE BARNES: EVEN THOUGH IF YOU DIDN'T LOSE A FRIEND OR LOVED ONE, IT ALTERED -- ALTERED THE COSMOS, TO AN EXTENT. IT WAS UNDENIAL.

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: IT DID. IT DID. IT ALTERED THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE NATIONALLY, INTERNATIONALLY, AND ONE THING THAT WAS -- WAS AMAZING TO ME, I LIVED A MILE FROM THIS, AND I DIDN'T KNOW A SINGLE SOUL WHO WAS KILLED IN THE TRAGEDY OR, REALLY, I DIDN'T KNOW ANYBODY WHO WORKED IN THE WORLD TRADE CENTER. AND THE -- BUT THE DEATH SPREAD OUT ALL THROUGH THE WORLD. THE PEOPLE IN LONG ISLAND AND NEW JERSEY AND WESTCHESTER COUNTY WERE HARDEST HIT, BUT THERE WERE PEOPLE ALL OVER THE WORLD WHO HAD RELATIVES OR FRIENDS DIE, AND YOU REALIZED -- AND PEOPLE ALL OVER THE WORLD WATCHED IT. IN FACT, I HAD A FRIEND WHO FOUND OUT ABOUT IT BECAUSE SOMEBODY IN LONDON CALLED HIM AND SAID, WHAT'S GOING ON OVER THERE? AND SO IT WAS A MOMENT WHEN YOU SAW THE -- HOW GLOBAL WE ARE AND HOW INTERCONNECTED AND THE BUILDING IN LOWER MANHATTAN CONTAINED THE WORLD. IT REALLY WAS THE WORLD TRADE CENTER.

STEVE BARNES: IN READING FUTURE OF LOVE, AND YOU MENTIONED THE CHARACTERS, I -- ONE GUY'S TAKE WAS THEY SEEMED TO BE ASKING THEMSELVES IN A WAY, WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO NOW?

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: YES, THEY WERE, AND THEY --

STEVE BARNES: WHETHER THEY WERE DOING GOOD OR BEING MISCHIEVOUS, WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO NOW?

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: YES, IT SEEMED A CRISIS, AND OF COURSE, THE PLOT LINE, ONE OF THEM, THE YOUNG MAN, MARK, DECIDED THAT HE -- HE WAS -- HE WAS NOT ONLY OUT OF WORK, HE WAS BITTERLY UNHAPPY IN HIS MARRIAGE. THE ONLY THING THAT HE REALLY WAS GOING FOR HIM WAS THAT HE LOVED HIS LITTLE DAUGHTER, AND -- BUT HE WAS ACTUALLY CONDUCTING A LOVE AFFAIR WITH HIS DAUGHTER'S NURSERY SCHOOL TEACHER, AND UNBEKNOWNST TO HIS POOR WIFE, WHO WAS EARNING A LIVING FOR THE FAMILY. AND HE WAS IN A TERRIBLE SITUATION THERE, AND HE HAD HAD BEEN -- IN THE BOOK HE GOES DOWN FOR AN INTERVIEW ON THE VERY DAY OF THE ATTACK, AND HE WITNESSES THIS, AND HE DECIDES, WELL, THEY'RE GOING TO THINK I'VE BEEN KILLED, AND THIS IS MY CHANCE TO MAKE A GETAWAY. SO HE -- FOR SEVERAL DAYS, HE ENTERTAINS THE IDEA OF JUST GOING ON THE LAMB, AND HIS WIFE CAN COLLECT THE INSURANCE POLICY AND HE'LL RUN AWAY WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND. AND YOU KNOW, I'M SURE THAT HAPPENED. I'M SURE THIS IS A TRUE STORY, ALTHOUGH I DON'T KNOW IT IS.

STEVE BARNES: THE IMPULSE MAYBE.

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: THE IMPUS WAS THERE, AND IN SITUATIONS LIKE THIS, THERE ARE ALWAYS CRAZY STORIES. IT'S NOT ALL JUST ONE THING. ANYWAY, HE HAD TO ASK HIMSELF WHAT HE WAS DOING, AND EVERYBODY IN THE BOOK HAD TO SAY WHAT ARE WE UP TO? WHAT ARE WE DOING?

STEVE BARNES: WHAT'S THIS ALL ABOUT?

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: WHAT'S THIS ALL ABOUT? DO WE STILL BELIEVE WHAT WE BELIEVED? ARE WE GOING TO GO ON LIKE WE ARE? AND AS THE BOOK GOES ON, WE FIND THE ANSWERS.

STEVE BARNES: YOU'VE HAD A WONDERFUL LIFE SINCE LEAVING HOT SPRINGS, AND YET YOU KEEP COMING BACK.

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: ARKANSAS HAS BEEN VERY GOOD TO ME, REALLY. YOU KNOW, WHEN I LEFT TO GO TO THE BIG CITY, I SAID I DON'T WANT TO BE -- I DON'T WANT TO LIVE IN ARKANSAS. I'M NOT AN ARKANSAN. I'M NOT A SOUTHERNER. I'M OUT OF HERE. AND -- BUT ARKANSAS, THE PEOPLE, MY FAMILY HAS BEEN UNFAILINGLY SUPPORTIVE. I BEGAN TO BE DRAWN BACK WHEN MY MOTHER GOT SICK BACK IN THE EARLY '6 0s. SHE DIED IN '68. AND I WAS DOWN HERE QUITE A LOT. AND I SPENT A LOT OF TIME WITH HER SITTING IN THE ST. JOSEPH'S HOSPITAL IN HOT SPRINGS AND WATCHING THE PEOPLE COME IN AND OUT. AND THEY SUDDENLY SEEMED LIKE THE MOST AMAZING PEOPLE. AND WONDERFUL PEOPLE. AND I SAID, WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? AND WHERE DID THEY COME FROM? AND WHY ARE THEY LIKE THEY ARE? AND WHAT HAS MADE THEM? AND IT WAS REALLY THAT EXPERIENCE THAT GAVE ME THE IDEA FOR WOMENFOLKS, AND TO ANSWER MY QUESTION OF WHO MADE THEM AND WHY ARE THEY LIKE THEY ARE, I DID AN AWFUL LOT OF RESEARCH. I WENT INTO SOUTHERN HISTORY, AND I FOUND THAT THERE WAS A -- A WHOLE LAYER OF SOUTHERNERS THAT HAD LARGELY BEEN IGNORED BY THE HISTORIANS, THE RURAL NOT VERY WELL EDUCATED, NON-SLAVE HOLDING, NONGLAMOROUS, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE OF THE SOUTH WHO NEVER GET MENTIONED EXCEPT PERHAPS TO BE MADE FUN OF. AND THEY CERTAINLY DIDN'T APPEAR IN "GONE WITH THE WIND," AND THEY WERE NOT LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THEY WERE SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY. AND I FINALLY JUST REALLY CAUGHT FIRE WITH THE NEED TO TELL THEIR STORY, THESE PLAIN PEOPLE OF THE SOUTH WHO DIDN'T REALLY FIT IN WITH ANY KIND OF STEREOTYPE. SO THAT BROUGHT ME BACK AND STILL IS A VERY STRONG PULL, ALTHOUGH I HAVE TO SAY THAT THE SOUTH I DESCRIBED IN WOMENFOLKS REALLY IS VANISHING FAST, IF IT'S NOT GONE ALREADY, AND THEN THE EXPERIENCE OF DOING THAT KIND OF RESEARCH SHOWED ME WHAT AN EXTRAORDINARY PLACE HOT SPRINGS WAS IN THAT EPOCK AND SUCH RICH MATERIAL -- EPIC AND SUCH RICH MATERIAL THAT IT WAS NATURAL TO GO ON TO WRITE ABOUT MY FATHER, THE BOOKMAKER, AND THE ILLEGAL EPIC IN HOT SPRINGS, WHICH REALLY, HOT SPRINGS IS QUITE A TOWN. YOU KNOW, POLITICAL CORRUPTION NEVER CHANGES. IT'S STILL WITH US. AND WHEN I WENT TO NEW YORK AND WOULD TELL PEOPLE I WAS FROM HOT SPRINGS, A SLEEPY LITTLE TOWN, YOU KNOW, THIS MUST REALLY SEEM STRANGE TO YOU, BUT IN FACT, POLITICS IN NEW YORK IS JUST LIKE POLITICS IN HOT SPRINGS. [LAUGHTER] IN FACT, IT'S MORE THAN ONE RESEMBLANCE. IT'S NOT AS ACCESSIBLE IN NEW YORK. [LAUGHTER] I'M NOT INTIMATELY ACQUAINTED WITH IT THE WAY I WAS IN HOT SPRINGS, BUT IT'S STILL -- IT'S THE SAME SYSTEM.

STEVE BARNES: YEAH. WELL, YOU HAD ALL THIS STUFF TO MINE, AND YOU LIVED IT, AND THERE WAS -- YOU HAVE THREE VOLUMES OUT OF IT.

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: YES.

STEVE BARNES: THREE ENCHANTING VOLUMES TOO.

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: OH, WELL, THANKS. I -- I GUESS I LIKE BOOKMAKER THE BEST OF THE THREE. SOMEHOW IT SEEMED A BETTER STORY, AND IT WAS DEEPLY SATISFYING TO ME TO WRITE ABOUT MY FATHER. WE WERE SO CLOSE WHEN I WAS GROWING UP. WE WERE REALLY A FATHER-DAUGHTER COMBINATION, AND HE -- HE TAUGHT ME TO READ. HE TAUGHT ME TO LOVE BOOKS. AND HE READ TO ME. AND HE REALLY USED ME IN A WAY TO LIVE HIS LIFE. HE WANTED AN EDUCATION AND HE NEVER GOT ONE. HE WANTED TO BE A WRITER AND HE NEVER HAD A CHANCE. AND HE ALMOST DEPUTIZED ME TO LIVE THAT KIND OF LIFE. I MEAN, IT WAS -- IT WAS ALMOST A CONTRACT BETWEEN US, ALTHOUGH HE WAS VERY ANGRY WITH ME AND VERY DISAPPOINTED WHEN I FINALLY WENT AWAY TO DO THE THINGS THAT HE WANTED ME TO DO. AND WHEN HE DIED, WE HAD NOT REALLY RECONCILED. HE DID, IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS OF HIS LIFE, GET SO ILL THAT YOU REALLY COULDN'T TALK ANYMORE. HE WAS KIND OF OUT OF IT. AND HE STILL WAS ANGRY WITH ME, AND WE HAD -- WE HAD HAD SOME POLITICAL FIGHTS TOO, AS I MENTION IN THE BOOK. WE CAME UP ON COMPLETELY OPPOSITE SIDES OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS QUESTION, TO MY ASTONISHMENT, BECAUSE I COULDN'T IMAGINE HIM JOINING FORCES WITH THE SEGS THE WAY HE DID. I COULDN'T BELIEVE --

STEVE BARNES: BECAUSE?

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: BECAUSE HE -- HE WASN'T THAT KIND OF MAN, I THOUGHT. I THOUGHT OF HIM AS A MAN OF GREAT IDEAS AND A MAN OF THE WORLD. HE TRAVELED, HE'D BEEN AROUND, AND HE WAS ALWAYS PREACHING FOR BROADMINDEDNESS AND TOLERANCE AND LIBERALITY. AND THEN TO HEAR HIM ARGUE IN FAVOR OF SEGREGATION WAS ASTOUNDING TO ME, AND IT MADE ME SO MAD. AND WE FOUGHT AND FOUGHT AND FOUGHT AND FOUGHT, AND WE WERE VERY, VERY ANGRY WITH EACH OTHER ABOUT THAT. BUT IT WAS ONE OF THE THINGS THAT ENABLED ME TO BREAK AWAY. BUT WE NEVER WERE ABLE TO SETTLE THAT FIGHT BECAUSE, AS I SAY, HE GOT ILL AND HE DIED, EVEN THOUGH I WAS BY HIS SIDE WHEN HE DIED. WE WEREN'T TALKING. I MEAN, WE CERTAINLY WEREN'T TALKING POLITICS. BUT WRITING THE BOOK AT LEAST HELPED ME RECONCILE MY FEELINGS TO HIM. IT WAS A VERY USEFUL BOOK FOR ME. AND I THINK HE WOULD HAVE LIKED THE BOOK. I HOPE HE WOULD HAVE LIKED IT.

STEVE BARNES: THE SOUTHERN WRITERS IMPULSE, THE NORTH TOWARD HOME IMPULSE, YOU KNOW, IS DRIVEN ON SCOTT FITZGERALD AND WOLFE, SO MANY OF US GO NORTH, AND SOMEHOW THEY KIND OF MAKE IT BACK.

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: YEAH.

STEVE BARNES: BUT YOU'RE COMFORTABLE THERE?

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: I LOVE NEW YORK. I'M REALLY COMFORTABLE THERE. AND MY FAMILY, I KNOW MANY OF THEM THINK I'M CRAZY FOR FEELING THAT WAY. AND EVEN MY OWN DAUGHTERS SOMETIMES THINK I'M CRAZY FOR FEELING THAT WAY. I -- I'VE THOUGHT ABOUT COMING BACK TO ARKANSAS TO LIVE, AND THAT'S -- YOU KNOW, THAT'S NOT -- IT'S NOT AN IMPOSSIBILITY, BUT I THINK I'LL PROBABLY STAY WHERE I AM. I THINK I'LL PROBABLY STAY -- IF I CAN. I MEAN, IT'S SO EXPENSIVE, IT'S SO HARD TO LIVE THERE, BUT I -- I REALLY LIKE IT.

STEVE BARNES: WELL, ON THIS TRIP BACK HOME, THANKS VERY MUCH FOR SPENDING THIS TIME WITH US.

SHIRLEY ABBOTT: IT'S BEEN A TOTAL DELIGHT. YOU ARE A GREAT INTERVIEWER. THANKS VERY MUCH.

STEVE BARNES: SHIRLEY ABBOTT. THANKS VERY MUCH. ABBOTT. THANKS VERY MUCH. SEE YOU NEXT TIME.

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