Kent Haruf 1943-2014

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Kent Haruf died today. I read his novel Benediction in August when my family was in Colorado.  He was a novelist well suited to the stillness of the plains. I grew up on the eastern edge of the world that Haruf describes, but solidly within it culturally. He recreated the feeling of those small prairie towns, the close human struggles that attend them, and the wide land stretching to the sky all around. He captured the meanness of the communities, the understated tenderness that sometimes breaks through, and the exquisite, sparkling quietness that surrounds everything, especially at night.

I read today that Haruf was born with a cleft palate. The surgeon who had been operating on him was killed in a plane crash before he could finish the series of operations to repair it. His parents took the surgeon’s death as a sign that young Kent should live with it as it was. He said that the pain and embarrassment of his appearance made him sensitive to the feelings of others.  That reminds me of something Hemingway said when he was asked what a person needed in his background in order to become a good writer.

“An unhappy childhood,” was Papa’s reply.

I admired Haruf as a novelist, and I will miss him.

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