Clyde Edgerton: Pilot, professor, papa...
The last time Clyde Edgerton did a reading for the Virginia Festival of the Book, he had the audience at Culbreth collectively about to wet its pants. And this was with Lee Smith, no slouch in hilarity herself, the pair of them blowing poor, serious Paule Marshall off the stage.
Edgerton proved so popular a draw that he sold out this year's festival luncheon in a matter of hours.
Some writers chafe at being labeled "Southern." Not Edgerton, a North Carolina native and proud of it. "Everybody has to be from somewhere," he points out. "As long as I'm not described as a bad writer, I'm happy."
Edgerton is as quick to poke fun at his own foibles as those of his characters. When he was an undergrad at the University of North Carolina, he contributed columns to the Daily Tar Heel supporting Barry Goldwater. By 1972, he was campaigning for George McGovern.
Writing wasn't even Edgerton's first career. He was an Air Force fighter pilot in southeast Asia during the '60s. And when he returned to get postgraduate degrees in English in Chapel Hill, he planned to teach literature, not write it.
"I had to do something so I'd have something to write about," says Edgerton. "I was 33 when I seriously started writing."
The stories he wrote during his four-year apprenticeship got rejected "202 times." He sent a couple of chapters to UNC literary critic Louis Rubin, who liked the stories and, coincidentally, was starting a publishing house called Algonquin Books.
The 1985 publication of Raney, a story about the marriage of a Free Will Baptist and an Episcopalian, brought critical acclaim and some heat from Campbell University, where Edgerton was teaching at the time. The Baptist college did not take too kindly to his depictions of Baptists, and did not renew his contract.
Campbell's loss was ultimately UNC-Wilmington's gain, where Edgerton now teaches and writes.
The day he speaks to The Hook, he's babysitting his 10- month-old son, a three-year-old nephew, and letting the dog in and out. And he'd just finished revising his newest book about airplanes, tentatively titled Dusty's Air Taxi.
The author of The Floatplane Papers hasn't flown since 1991, when he crashed his plane. No one was hurt, but he concedes it was an expensive hobby, "when I probably had more time and money than I do now."
So Edgerton probably won't be flying up when he comes to the book festival to hang with pals from the Fellowship of Southern Writers like Richard Bausch, Madison Smartt Bell, and George Garrett.
And it was Southern connections that brought him back to Charlottesville. "I was asked to do a luncheon by [program director] Nancy Coble [Damon], the sister of a fellow I used to play baseball with."
In Southern writerly circles, there are no six degrees of separation.
What do you like best about Charlottesville? College atmosphere
What do you like least about Charlottesville? Bad traffic
Favorite hangout? Don't live here.
Most overrated virtue? Don't live here.
What would people be surprised to know about you? That I have a 10-month-old son.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? My body would be more flexible.
What accomplishment are you proudest of? Publishing eight novels
What do people find most annoying about you? I don't know.
Whom do you admire? Jimmy Carter and Noam Chomsky
Favorite book? Blood Meridian
What subject causes you to rant? The war in Iraq
What thrills you about life in the 21st century? The same as any century... the freshness of springtime in North Carolina
What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? The military-industrial complex and the tunnel vision and political power of fundamentalists worldwide
What do you drive? A pickup truck
What's in your car CD/tape player right now? Backporch music– bluegrass.
What's your next journey? To Durham from Wilmington
What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? Controversy over first novel at Campbell University, Buies Creek, North Carolina
What do you regret? That I didn't interview and audiotape more of my relatives
Favorite comfort food? Vanilla ice cream and hot apple pie
What's always in your refrigerator? Vanilla ice cream
Must-see TV? None
Favorite cartoon? Boondocks
Describe a perfect day. Writing in the morning, with family during the day, friends in the afternoon, fire in fireplace–with wife at night.
Walter Mitty fantasy? To be a jet pilot– it was realized
Who'd play you in the movie? Me
Most embarrassing moment? Too embarrassing to repeat
Best advice you ever got? Follow no advice that doesn't make sense to you.
Favorite bumper sticker? The more I know, the less I need.
Clyde Edgerton<br>PHOTO COURTESY ALGONQUIN PRESS