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.