Russell Hoban, a memory

Yesterday, February 4, 2013, was Russell Hoban’s birthday; he would have been 88.  He began as a successful children’s author in his native USA, then moved to London and reinvented himself as a novelist for adults. His books have lingering effects.

This is what he has to say about his own work:

The real reality, the flickering of seen and unseen actualities, the moment under the moment, can’t be put into words; the most that a writer can do—and this is only rarely achieved—is to write in such a way that the reader finds himself in a place where the unwordable happens off the page.

In January 2011, I published my first Huffington Post piece, titled “Russell Hoban: A Great American Writer.”  That was an audition blog—the one that determined whether I would get blogging privileges.

About two months later he contacted me via a Yahoo newsgroup I belong to called the Kraken, who are fans of Hoban’s work. His daughter in Connecticut had read the Huff Post piece. He wanted to talk to me, he said. Would I call him at his London home?

I thought it would be a short conversation, but it was a long one. We talked about writing and books; he gave me title after title, and author after author. I scrawled the names on scrap paper, which I still have.

He was 86 and had a number of health problems (he would die in December of that year). On the phone, however, he sounded  like a man of thirty—both in his tone of voice and in his enthusiasm. That is how I will remember him.

In the words of blogger Christine Bissonnette: “Screw time and all its rules.”

Since 2002, fans around the world have celebrated Russell Hoban’s birthday by writing lines from his novels on yellow paper and leaving the paper in various places to be found by strangers. (Yellow writing paper figures in his first novel Kleinzeit.)

Coming upon a Hoban line unexpectedly is in my opinion the best way to discover him. You can see some striking examples here.

8 comments on “Russell Hoban, a memory

  1. sdormadyeise says:

    I am so glad you got to speak with Russell Hoban. I know he’s a huge inspiration to you, and chatting with an author we admire can be a blessing and a gift. To those unfamiliar with his work I recommend Hoban’s TURTLE DIARY, a charming novel.

  2. Lindsay, I am thrilled with your post. What a charming story and what better way to keep his work alive but to leave bits of him for strangers to discover :)

  3. Thank you for quoting me and linking back to my blog in your post! Also, I love this post, especially the thing about the lines on yellow paper… that’s such a neat idea!! Sort of magical and myseterious, and it makes me smile. It’s gestures like this that remind me why I love stories. It really brings people together, doesn’t it?

    • This year my quotation on yellow paper ended up on a low table surrounded by comfortable chairs at the local mall. It was bound to surprise people. It came from a novel called THE MEDUSA FREQUENCY:

      “Under our ordinary speech there are always invisible subtitles in an unknown language.”


      • ooo, I really like that quote. I’ve been reading about Eugene Ionesco, and this reminds me of some of his quotes on the absurdity of language and trying to communicate with one another. Lately I feel like I’ve entered the vortex and I’m asking all these questions about the world. I think I need to be cool with just “being” for a little bit.

      • The context of the quote was that there was this crazy experimental indie filmmaker whose movies were in English with subtitles in a made-up language. For example, if a character said “I love you” the subtitle would be something like “RVXYER BATSYL.” There is much to be said for being in the flow and not questioning it too closely — we all need that restful time.


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