Transcript
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Index
Search this Index
X
00:00:03 - Kentucky Writers Oral History Project introduction

Play segment

Partial Transcript: This is an oral history interview with Michael Dorris, being conducted by Linda Beattie for the Kentucky Writers Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer and interviewee are introduced and the date and location of the interview given.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louisville (Ky.); Michael Dorris; Oral history; University of Louisville

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.; University of Louisville

00:00:22 - Family history

Play segment

Partial Transcript: What is your full name?

Segment Synopsis: Dorris discusses his family background on either side. His mother's family was from Hendersonville, Kentucky but had relocated to Louisville, and his father's family was from Washington state. He also talks about being raised by his mother, aunts, and grandmother after the death of his father in 1947 when he was two years old.

Keywords: Hendersonville (Ky.); Kentucky; Literature; Louisville (Ky.); World War II

Subjects: Kentucky; World War, 1939-1945; World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, American

00:07:58 - Childhood and education / his daughters' names

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Uh, did you have brothers and sisters?

Segment Synopsis: Dorris talks about his childhood, having been raised an only child by many adult women with whom he spent all his time. He was well-educated at private schools even though his family's means were very modest, and spent a lot of time reading, memorizing poetry, and writing to his 57 penpals in lieu of friends, sports, or dating. This leads to a discussion of his daughters' very interesting names.

Keywords: Children; Louisville (Ky.)

Subjects: Childhood; Dorris, Michael; Education; Families.; Literature.

00:14:04 - The development of his careers in anthropology and writing

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, when you were a child did you like to--or did you ever experiment with writing yourself?

Segment Synopsis: Dorris describes the progression of his career interests throughout the humanities: from writing as a child, to anthropology in high school, English and classics in undergrad, theatre in grad school, anthropology again, and then writing again.

Keywords: Anthropology; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louisville (Ky.)

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Anthropology.; Dorris, Michael; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.

00:16:33 - Value of writing "The Broken Cord"

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Uh, in reading, in reading your writing, that's something that I see coming out that wanted to ask you about.

Segment Synopsis: Dorris talks about the tendency towards "obfuscation" in social science writing, and the need for humanizing scholarly writing, as he attempted in his book "The Broken Cord," combining narrative, psychology, anthropology, memoir, and hard science.

Keywords: Anthropology; Fetal alcohol syndrome; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Oral history; Social sciences

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Anthropology.; Dorris, Michael; Fetal alcohol syndrome.; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.; Oral history; Social sciences.

00:20:29 - Writing process for "The Broken Cord"

Play segment

Partial Transcript: -very much; it was a, avery hard book to write.

Segment Synopsis: Dorris talks about the particular circumstances around writing "The Broken Cord," down to his daily routine while working on it. From there, he discusses the difficulties of narrating his own life.

Keywords: Fetal alcohol syndrome; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich; Poetry

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Fetal alcohol syndrome.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

00:26:20 - High school ambitions

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, going back for a minute to, um, your life in Louisville through high school.

Segment Synopsis: Dorris talks about how he was the first person in his family to go to college. He says he happened to be very well-educated and get a great score on the SAT and thus won a scholarship to Georgetown University despite comparatively poor grades in math and science.

Keywords: Education; Georgetown University; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Education.; Erdrich, Louise.; Georgetown University; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

00:29:15 - College experience

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Well, how did, how did you like Georgetown?

Segment Synopsis: Dorris discusses how much he loved his college experiences and how much he learned, particularly from one particular English professor and a project on Tennessee Williams that he did under that professor.

Keywords: Georgetown University; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich; Tennessee Williams; William Golding

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Georgetown University; Golding, William, 1911-1993.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; Williams, Tennessee, 1911-1983.

00:33:43 - Graduate school / his many college jobs

Play segment

Partial Transcript: And then I went to history of the theatre in graduate school.

Segment Synopsis: Dorris explains how he chose the particular graduate program he went into and its effects on him, and then goes on to discuss the many different jobs he held during his schooling, including three years working for the New York City Housing Authority.

Keywords: American Indians; Georgetown University; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Native Americans; New York (N.Y.); New York City (N.Y.); Yale University

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Georgetown University; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.; Native Americans.; Yale University

00:39:10 - His Native American background

Play segment

Partial Transcript: --you; you talked about going back to the reservations at times.

Segment Synopsis: Beattie inquires about Dorris' mixed white and Native American background, and so Dorris discusses the development of his identity as a Native American and how he learned that he could be recognized by other Native Americans as not just white.

Keywords: American Indians; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich; Native Americans

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.; Native Americans.

00:43:19 - How to be a writer

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, um, talking about a writer needing to observe people constantly, don't you think that all of your, your various job experiences as well as cultural experiences and places where you have lived and that sort of thing, um, the more interest somebody has the more adept they are at doing that.

Segment Synopsis: Dorris gives his advice on how to be a writer, which involves taking in as many and as broad of experiences as one can, through both reading and through various sorts of jobs, as well as regular writing.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.

00:47:38 - Life after graduate school / adopting children / going to Dartmouth

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Uh, what happened after graduate school and your series of jobs?

Segment Synopsis: Dorris discusses his summer after earning his master's degree studying Native American communities in Alaska, followed by some time teaching at an experimental college (Johnston College, now the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies at the University of Redlands) in California in fall of 1970, going back to Alaska for 9 months, then getting a job at another experimental college (Franconia College) in New Hampshire in 1971, adopting children, and finally being made head of Native American Studies at Dartmouth.

Keywords: Alaska; American Indians; Dartmouth College; Franconia College; Johnston College; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Native Americans; University of Redlands

Subjects: Alaska.; American literature--Kentucky.; Dartmouth College; Dorris, Michael; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Native Americans.; University of Redlands

00:55:13 - Fetal alcohol syndrome / the impact of "The Broken Cord"

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, in addition to Abel, the child that you write about in "The Broken Cord," but, your other two adopted children also had fet--have fetal alcohol syndrome.

Segment Synopsis: Beattie inquires about the effect of fetal alcohol syndrome on his children and of his book "The Broken Cord" on society, spreading the word of all the issues that can be caused by someone drinking while pregnant, in a time where textbooks still recommended a daily glass of wine for pregnant women.

Keywords: Fetal alcohol syndrome; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Fetal alcohol syndrome.; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.

01:02:12 - His son Abel's death / Dorris' other children

Play segment

Partial Transcript: And your son Abel died after--

Segment Synopsis: Beattie inquires about the circumstances of Abel's death, and from there Dorris' other children, both adopted and biological. Dorris talks about each of his children individually, including describing the relatively good status of Abel's life at the time of his death, after having had two successful brain surgeries to sever the connections between the hemispheres of his brain to control his epilepsy.

Keywords: Fetal alcohol syndrome; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Fetal alcohol syndrome.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

01:07:47 - Meeting Louise Erdrich / why he adopted children

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Well, go back a little bit.

Segment Synopsis: Dorris tells of meeting his wife when she was his student at Dartmouth and of how he wound up reuniting with her when she was giving a poetry reading, and eventually dating and marrying her. Beattie also inquires about what made him decide to adopt children as a twenty-something bachelor.

Keywords: American Indians; Dartmouth College; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich; Native Americans

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dartmouth College; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Native Americans.

01:13:02 - Collaborating with his wife

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Yeah, um, what about your, your writing lives together?

Segment Synopsis: Beattie inquires about Dorris' continual collaborations with his wife on both of their writings, and how they manage to be prolific while clearing every word they publish with each other.

Keywords: Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

01:21:00 - Their literary success / taking on writing full-time

Play segment

Partial Transcript: We're fortunate because we've both been successful.

Segment Synopsis: Dorris says the success of his and his wife's writing partnership is due to each of their early writing successes and thus ability to take chances. From there, Beattie inquires about his giving up his tenured job at Dartmouth to write full-time.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

01:29:50 - Kentucky / sense of place

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Had you ever considered moving back to Kentucky?

Segment Synopsis: Beattie inquires about Dorris' thoughts on the potential of moving back to Kentucky, and from there his thoughts on the presence of Kentucky in his daily life and his writing.

Keywords: Henderson (Ky.); Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich; Louisville (Ky.)

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

01:42:38 - On creativity

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, I also wanted to ask--sense of place--this is an all-encompassing question, but what do you think the nature of creativity is?

Segment Synopsis: Beattie asks about Dorris' thoughts on the nature of creativity, which he describes as something done to satisfy a curiosity, but to the act of satisfying that curiosity well.

Keywords: Art; Creativity; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.

01:49:52 - More on how to become a writer

Play segment

Partial Transcript: But when people come up to you, as you've mentioned earlier, at readings and say, "How do I become a writer?" does that throw you in a sense in terms of thinking that...

Segment Synopsis: Dorris and Beattie further discuss the logistics of being a writer as a career and how they vary from person to person.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich; Publishing

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.; Publishers and publishing.

01:56:12 - Contemporary literature / being in a celebrity writer fundraiser band

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So, um, but anyway.

Segment Synopsis: Beattie inquires about Dorris' reading habits, what contemporary writers he enjoys, reading for instructions, and the band he's in with other celebrity writers.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Erdrich, Louise; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

02:03:33 - Writing from women's points of views

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Yeah, I know you have been asked this many times, but, uh, um, your novel, "A Yellow Raft in Blue Water", uh, written from three different women in three different generation points of view....

Segment Synopsis: Dorris talks about how and why he came to write a book from the perspectives of three different women from three different generations, and how it's not that hard to write from the perspective of someone of a different age, ethnicity, or gender.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

02:07:00 - Being Louise's editor and agent

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I'm sure it was partly competition.

Segment Synopsis: Dorris discusses the beginning of his collaborative fiction writing with his wife and how editing her work made him want to become a writer and distinguish himself.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

02:16:15 - What he aims for with his own writing

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I wanted to ask you what you think distinguishes your writing, fiction and nonfiction, and what future writing projects most interest you.

Segment Synopsis: Beattie asks Dorris his opinions of his own writing. This leads to a discussion of his writing process, and how he may end up cutting the very inspiration process.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

02:23:51 - Identity as a theme in his work

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, identity is a strong theme in, in all of your books.

Segment Synopsis: Dorris discusses themes in his own work, and give an example of how he and Louise Erdrich implied particular desired meanings in their jointly authored "The Crown of Columbus."

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

02:31:23 - His involvement with Save the Children

Play segment

Partial Transcript: And I seem to be doing a lot more--um, like I went to Zimbabwe this summer.

Segment Synopsis: Dorris mentions going to Zimbabwe and discusses his involvement with the organization Save the Children, using his writing ability and notoriety to spread the word of a drought in southern Africa.

Keywords: Kentucky writers; Literature; Somalia; Zimbabwe

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

02:38:39 - His Henderson, Kentucky novel

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, I think I cut you off when you were answering a question about future work.

Segment Synopsis: Beattie asks about his forthcoming novel "The Dark Snake," which is "far from finished." He talks about how it's being written (out of various short stories including an already published one called "The Dark Snake"), when and where it takes place (in Henderson, Kentucky at the turn of the twentieth century) based to some extent on his own family.

Keywords: Bobbie Ann Mason; Henderson (Ky.); Literature; Louise Erdrich; Louisville (Ky.)

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; Mason, Bobbie Ann

02:42:15 - Writing children's books / more on his other work

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, are you writing children's books now, you think, because of your own children?

Segment Synopsis: Dorris talks about the inspiration behind his children's books, such as "Morning Girl," which he considers to be more "books about children," and the enjoyment he takes in writing them.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.

02:50:05 - Concluding remarks / on Kentucky writers

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um--(laughs)--what, other than the time you spend writing and, and working for various causes and political concerns as you've talked about, what--how do you like to spend your time otherwise?

Segment Synopsis: Beattie inquires on how Dorris spends his time other than writing and working on political causes, to which he answers "taking care of his children." She then asks for other Kentucky writers he admires (which he lists), and then for some concluding remarks on himself as a person or writer--which is that he's (pleasantly) surprised at where he is.

Keywords: Bobbie Ann Mason; Child-rearing; James Still; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Louise Erdrich; Marsha Norman; Robert Penn Warren; Sue Grafton; Wendell Berry

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Berry, Wendell, 1934-; Child-rearing.; Dorris, Michael; Erdrich, Louise.; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.; Mason, Bobbie Ann; Norman, Marsha.; Still, James, 1906-2001; Warren, Robert Penn, 1905-1989