Pushcart-nominated novelist Bridget Bufford on Missouri roots

Nov 15, 2011

Missouri native Bridget Bufford's second novel Cemetery Bird has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Bufford speaks frankly about her upbringing in Missouri, writing drug-addicted characters and why it's so hard to run away from the Midwest.

Click above to listen to Bufford read an excerpt from Cemetery Bird.

On her background:

I got involved with drugs and alcohol abuse when I was pretty young, before high school. I quit by the time I was 23, but I had 10 good years of runnin’ around and gettin’ in trouble. I never got arrested – I was lucky in that. Never had any trouble with the law. But enough trouble that I was ready to quit by the time I was 23. I met a lot of people in the process that went through some really hard times. They had families like this [the family in her book.] A lot of characters when I was still using were on the unsavory side as well.

But it was the late 70s, and I was in high school. There was a drug culture, I suppose. I wouldn’t blame my own using and addiction on the drug culture – I’d say it was me. I was more of a loner. I used drugs just to kind of get by. I used drugs to deal with my own isolation, and I think a lot of that comes through in my writing. Jay’s mom is an Apache. She moves to Arizona to try to reconnect with the cultural heritage, but she never can. She’s never a part of it. No matter what her mom is, Jay’s an isolate.

 

On growing up in Missouri:

I lived in the St. Louis area initially, and grew up there and moved to Kirksville in northern Missouri for a couple years. Then I went to the southwest and lived in Arizona and Texas. I came back to Missouri and have been here since the eighties. First in St. Louis, then in mid-Missouri. I think Missouri is a place you come back to. I think the Midwest is kind of like that. Midwesterners grew up in a culture that’s something you miss when you’re gone.

I wouldn’t say I write from personal experience – I write from personal observation. Growing up here in Missouri, you’re always between at least two rivers and maybe more, and I find there’s always rivers in my work. My first book, Minus One, the very first line of it is “Sometimes I forget this is a river town.” The protagonist, who lives in St. Louis, never forgets for very long. Because you just can’t. There’s the river.

On how regional authors handle writing about drug culture:

If you read west coast writers, there’s the ghettos and the barrios there, and with east coast writers it’s the same. The drug use is more associated with a ghetto culture there, and here it’s rampant. It cuts through all layers of society. It tends to be more pronounced, I think, in the rural areas, in the Bootheel, in the Ozarks – at least, those are the areas that get blamed for it. But it’s everywhere. I grew up in a subdivision, this suburban wasteland where there was nothing to do, nowhere to go for miles. No busses, no public transportation. You could hitchhike, you could steal a car or you could have a bicycle. Or you could get in trouble at home.