John Dufresne

John Dufresne


(Source: Florida International University Creative Writing Program Faculty Page)
Born: January 30, 1948
Famous Works:
Major Achivements & Awards:

Biography

John Dufresne was born in Worcester, MA on January 30, 1948, the son of Bernard V. “Lefty”, an electric company supervisor, and Doris Dufresne, an office worker. He attended school in Worcester. 5 Dufresne's childhood memories of Worcester include time spent the old train station hanging out with friends at the bus stop and "being throttled by nuns." When he was eight years old he had a conversation with a friend, Paul McDonald, about art during a lunch hour in May. Sitting on the hill that overlooks the St. Stephen's schoolyard, they discussed the movie, Them. Though he does not recall the specifics of the conversation, Dufresne does recall the enthusiasm and animation that characterized the conversation. Sharing in another's enthusiasm and seeing that creativity was important in other people's lives helped "legitimize [his] own daydreaming." 9

He borrowed his first book, Black Beauty from the Billings Square Library. As an adolescent, he spent hours at this library watching girls and reading books. The library was where he learned to love books, though he was terrible at returning his books on time. 9 In high school Dufresne discovered such works as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye. Of these works Dufresne says, “I thought, ‘This is what I want to write. I want to tell a story that will do for my readers what those books did for me — take me out of my world and put me in these fictional worlds that are as real to me as the guy in the next aisle in the classroom.’ ” 2 Encouragement from Brother Joseph Gerard and Brother Capistran at St. John's was all Dufresne needed. When they told him he could write his response was, "I can? Fabulous, I will."9

Dufresne graduated from Worcester State College in 1970. 5 After graduating, he worked as a social worker at Friendly House, a drug-prevention and crisis intervention program. He later worked at an after-school drop-in program. There he and other staff started a literary magazine, “The Little Apple,” to encourage children to write. 2 He also served as a draft counselor during the Vietnam War. Dufresne “[h]as worked variously as a cab driver, bartender, janitor, house painter, and in a plastics factory.” 5 After being laid off from his job at the drop-in center, Dufresne decided to pursue a career in writing. He applied to several MFA programs, deciding to go to whichever program accepted him. That program was at the University of Arkansas. Leaving the Northeast for the South, he studied for and received an MFA. 3 He then spent time teaching at the Northeast Louisiana University between 1984 and 1987. He returned to the Northeast to do some Ph.D. work at SUNY Binghamton, but never completed his Ph.D. work. He is currently a full professor teaching in the Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing Program at Florida International University. As well as teaching creative writing, Dufresne has also written a guide book for writing, The Lie That Tells a Truth: a Guide to Writing Fiction. 4 He finished a second book on writing, Is Life Like This?, which is due out in February of 2010.9

Some people argue that creative writing cannot be taught. As evidenced by his position as a writing professor and author of a creative writing book, Dufresne disagrees. “What you can teach is the craft of writing. You can’t teach the passion, the will, the patience and the tenacity it takes. But you can certainly tell everyone what the techniques are of telling a story. You teach the craft and the art comes later.” He believes in the process of imitation first, and that eventually out of this imitation grows a writer’s own voice. 3

When Dufresne himself began finding his own voice and had a few stories published, he set out to find an agent. Finding an agent accepting short stories proved to be a difficult task. He found three who were accepting short stories and sent out three stories that he felt showed a range of stories and abilities. He received a response from Richard McDonough, with whom he remains. It took nearly a year to find a publisher willing to take a chance on Dufresne’s collection of stories. It was W.W. Norton’s editor, Jill Bialosky, who decided to publish the collection. Bialosky commented to Dufresne on the difficulty of having a collection of short stories published, “Jill told me ‘you may be the last guy to get a first book of short stories published.” Dufresne has a good relationship with his publisher. As he phrases it, “They’re loyal and they sign you on as a writer and not as a book. They want to nourish and support your career. They don’t pester me about deadlines, they’re just very supportive people.” 3

Dufresne writes frequently about the relationship between life and fiction. He draws from his own childhood in Worcester as well as other life experiences. He observes the world around him and the people in it, and then he incorporates these observations into his works. One such inspiration was the dog that Dufresne heard about from his brother-in-law Conrad. This was a friend's dog who managed to eat his way from the garage to the kitchen. This dog inspired Spot the omnivorous dog in Love Warps the Mind a Little. Spot's appearance was based on a setter he remembered from childhood. "And, of course, his name came from Dick and Jane. See Spot run!" In Love Warps the Mind a Little, Dufresne has what he calls his "Hitchcock moment" and puts in an appearance in his own novel. When asked how he views the relationship between life and fiction Dufresne answered, "Fiction means shaping. It means imposing a beginning, a middle, and an end to an experience, a resolution. In life all our problems do not get resolved so neatly. Life is where the fictional material comes from. And with that raw material we create a more vivid world in our imaginations. People ask were my stories come from and I say Home Depot or the supermarket or the bus stop. I saw a heavy set older woman at the bus stop on Friday, purse over her shoulder, and a jowly bulldog mask on her face. I'm still thinking about her and she'll show up in a story pretty soon."9

Dufresne was drawn to Southern writing and is fascinated by Southern culture. This fascination inspired the novels Louisiana Power & Light and Deep in the Shade of Paradise. These Southern novels take place in Monroe, Louisiana . Of Monroe Dufresne remarks, “I don’t understand why there is something so attractive about Monroe. It may be that it was so strange — people speaking in a different dialect, different music to their language and the long lines of families. Everybody knows everyone else’s stories. I found it fascinating and still do.” 2 His Southern story telling has garnered praise from critics and has elicited comparisons to William Faulkner. Some people are surprised to find out that Dufresne is a "Yankee," as he calls himself. This surprise is because of the authenticity of the Southern settings Dufresne writes about. He takes this surprise as a compliment and, when in a bookstore in the South, loves to see his books shelved in Southern Writers. His favorite American authors were Southern. Reading works by William Faulkner, Flannery O'Conner, and Eudora Welty made him feel like he had live in the South before he had even moved there. 9

While drawn to Southern culture, Dufresne’s childhood and time spent in Worcester influences his writing, including his stories placed in the South. “It’s like an elastic band; you’re right back there,” he said. “Even when I’m writing about Louisiana, I’m writing about Worcester and people in Worcester.” 2 Some of his short stories, the novel Love Warps the Mind a Little, 7 and his novel, Requiem, Mass., take place in Worcester and reference familiar Worcester locations, like Mechanics Hall and Hope Cemetery. 8

In addition to praise from critics, Dufresne has received a number of awards during his writing career. These wards include the Transatlantic Review Award (1983), a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award (1984), a Yankee Magazine Fiction Award (1988) and a Florida State Arts Council grant (1992), the New York Times Notable Book of the Year Award for Louisiana Power & Light (1994) and Love Warps the Mind a Little (1996), and he is an honorary doctor of literature at Worcester State college (1999). 5

Dufresne currently lives in Dania Beach, Florida with his wife and son, where he continues to write. 5

Selected Works

Photos

Multimedia

The Success Journey With Guest John Dufresne

John Dufresne discusses his books and success as a writer with hosts John DiPetrio and David Bedard.


Source: Internet Archive

Quotes

It’s where all the important things in my life happened — my first adventure, my first girlfriend. When I go back I just drive around and I’m reminded of people. The landscape of the imagination, that’s what Worcester is to me.
– John Dufresne2

References

  1. John Dufresne. http://www.johndufresne.com
  2. Sacks, Pamela H. “Fictional city has parallels to Worcester Commonwealth’s ‘Heart’ is called ‘Requiem’ in new Dufresne novel.” Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp. 24 Jul 2008. http://www.telegram.com
  3. “Interview: John Dufresne, Author.” 1 Jul 2005. http://www.slushpile.net/index.php/2005/07/01/interviw-john-dufresne-author/
  4. Jeffrey, David K. “John Dufresne.” Comp. Flora, Joseph M., Amber Vogel, Bryan Albin Giemza. Southern Writers. Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.
  5. "Dufresne, John 1948–." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. Ed. Amanda Sams. Vol. 159. Detroit: Gale, 2007. 114-116. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. Boston Public Library. 5 Oct. 2008 .
  6. Dufresne, John. "Some seeds to start your fiction: to get ideas, think small and specific, says this accomplished author." The Writer 121.9 (Sept 2008): 37. Junior Edition. Gale. Boston Public Library. 5 Oct. 2008 .
  7. Dufresne, John. Love Warps the Mind a Little. New York: Plume, 1998.
  8. Dufresne, John. Requiem, Mass. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.
  9. Dufresne, John. Email interview. 02 Nov. 2008.