Padgett Powell speaks

Brian Barr interviews Padgett Powell for The Believer.

Early on, he asks if Powell misses working as a roofer for a living. Powell responds, “After thirty, working for a living with your body is contraindicated. You always miss being around hard people without imaginary issues.”

Later Barr asks about the role Donald Barthelme played in Powell’s development as a writer.

Could Barthelme be considered your literary father? He played a significant role in the shaping of Edisto, yes?

Barthelme edited the book, cutting for cleanliness and strength. In terms of my overall development as a writer, he lamented that he had found me already “fully formed.” By this he meant that I was, then, formed by my vision of realistic writing as more or less an amalgam of Faulkner and O’Connor and Williams and Percy and, say, Mailer.

I could not at the time make sense of Barthelme and Beckett and so forth. I never would have had I not, in knowing Don personally, seen that he was a red-blooded normal dude, not a wacko that the writing might suggest. Before I met him in fact I anticipated a Warhol kind of beast. He showed up in jeans and a yoked cowboy shirt a little drunk and introducing himself as Don and shaking hands firmly. We had not had a teacher to that point in our tour in Houston who would deign shake hands.

I referred to Don, as did many of the students, as Uncle Don. He did not shape Edisto beyond cleaning up, with considerable deftness, what I gave him. He could have been a professional editor of the highest caliber. He did in fact select the ten non-consecutive chapters that were sent to the New Yorker. They admitted later that they would not have seen that excerpt had they been given the entire book at first.

Previously: Powell and Barthelme and Beckett, and what I learned (apart from the fact that he started writing to get laid, and it worked, and that he didn’t care for Borges) from the college writing class I took with Powell (2nd answer; short version: a lot).


You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.