2008.03.30: March 30, 2008: Headlines: COS - Belize: Writing - Belize: Clarksville Leaf Chronicle: Belize RPCV Barry Kitterman's life rings a chord of intensity

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Belize: Peace Corps Belize : Peace Corps Belize: Newest Stories: 2008.03.30: March 30, 2008: Headlines: COS - Belize: Writing - Belize: Clarksville Leaf Chronicle: Belize RPCV Barry Kitterman's life rings a chord of intensity

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Belize RPCV Barry Kitterman's life rings a chord of intensity

Belize RPCV Barry Kitterman's life rings a chord of intensity

Kitterman was born in Visalia, Calif., in the San Joaquin Valley in 1953. He stayed there until he went to college at Berkeley, then joined the Peace Corps. After an initial assignment in Senegal was canceled, then a second project quickly fell apart, the Peace Corps sent Kitterman to Belize, where he struggled to be a positive influence in the lives of young boys who suffered in a myriad ways, who had turned to theft or other criminal mischief to survive or endure their lives. "I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I did have a classroom like that," Kitterman says. "And those first days in the classroom were my experience." Kitterman says nothing of the book is autobiographical. The ways Kitterman is haunted by his Peace Corps experience seem to be magnified in "The Baker's Boy." "To live there, to love those boys, which I did, deeply," he says, "to want to make a difference, and to come back (home), see that their situation was so hard, that I hadn't been able to rescue them, somehow ..."

Belize RPCV Barry Kitterman's life rings a chord of intensity

Kitterman's life rings a chord of intensity

By STACY SMITH SEGOVIA The Leaf-Chronicle

March 30, 2008

Barry Kitterman has a placid nature that is active in its spread to all those who come in range. He soothes, he intrigues, his voice warms the space he inhabits.
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Interesting, then, that he creates for us a world that is wild, tragic, sweet and uncontrolled in his novel, "The Baker's Boy," to be released Friday. But sit with Kitterman, 54, for a few hours, and you learn of the chord of intensity that runs at the center of his life. His kindness and gentleness are convictions, not simply personality traits.

A professor in the languages and literature department at Austin Peay State University since 1995, Kitterman helps hone the fiction of hundreds of students each year, teaching them the pain and relief of revising treasured prose.

Kitterman spent more than 10 years working on "The Baker's Boy." He remembers vividly having to set the novel aside when the Jan. 22, 1999 tornado tore through downtown Clarksville, heavily damaging APSU. For half the time since, he has been in a series of drastic, then major, then minor revisions, directed by editors and readers and second readers at several small presses.

"When you get feedback, that's the thing you can't measure when do you take the feedback and use it, and when do you say, 'No, that's not really what I'm trying to do here?'" he says.

With much practice, he developed a method for dealing with editors' criticism, which can be harsh.

"I did what I tell my students to do sit with it (the advice)," Kitterman says. "If it's wrong, it just sort of goes away. If it's right, it stays with you. It bugs you."

Kitterman's favorite criticism to receive is one many would find baffling, if not infuriating. Kitterman appreciated it when a reader of the early manuscripts of "The Baker's Boy" told him, "This part just doesn't work." Solving that puzzle was a project Kitterman could sink his heart into.

"If someone pointed out a problem to me, and it felt like a problem, I would do that (make revisions) joyfully, willingly," Kitterman says. "It's so cool to make a story better than it was."
Long process

After thinking "The Baker's Boy" was sold to University of Tennessee Press four years ago, Kitterman was told it wasn't ready, and he went back to work on it again, this time working with Kathryn Lang, editor at Southern Methodist University Press in Dallas, Texas.

In his novel, Kitterman says he has "gratitude that cannot be measured" for Lang, but even after it won Lang over, the road was not smooth for "The Baker's Boy."

"If the editor, Kathryn Lang, likes the book, she has to find two outside readers. Both of those readers have to say, 'Yes, it's a go.' Neither one of them said, 'Yes,'" Kitterman says. "One of the readers was generous. The other one really wasn't."

After another major revision, Lang and her two readers agreed.

"Both said, 'Yes, it should be published now,' but one of them gave me some good things to think about. I wrote another revision," Kitterman says.

This level of patience comes from a man who has worked on the novel for a decade, and has in the back of his closet the manuscripts of his first two novels, which he matter-of-factly refers to as "failed novels."

"I'm told by all my friends who are writers, every novelist has one failed novel, if not two or three, and that's just how you learn to write," he says.

He is content to let his first two attempts stay closed up in a box not because he lacks affection for them, but because he would rather spend his time with new work, his imagination of the moment. But he is also thrilled his new novel will, at long last, see the light of day.
Painful experiences

Although Kitterman says even the most real of the characters is an amalgam of several people he has known, the book's story is very much informed by his experiences.

Kitterman was born in Visalia, Calif., in the San Joaquin Valley in 1953. He stayed there until he went to college at Berkeley, then joined the Peace Corps. After an initial assignment in Senegal was canceled, then a second project quickly fell apart, the Peace Corps sent Kitterman to Belize, where he struggled to be a positive influence in the lives of young boys who suffered in a myriad ways, who had turned to theft or other criminal mischief to survive or endure their lives.

"I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I did have a classroom like that," Kitterman says. "And those first days in the classroom were my experience."

Kitterman says nothing of the book is autobiographical. The ways Kitterman is haunted by his Peace Corps experience seem to be magnified in "The Baker's Boy."

"To live there, to love those boys, which I did, deeply," he says, "to want to make a difference, and to come back (home), see that their situation was so hard, that I hadn't been able to rescue them, somehow ..."
Life in a bakery

After the Peace Corps, Kitterman moved to Montana for graduate school, where he met his wife, Jill Eichhorn. Two weeks after getting married in 1985, they moved to China, where they taught English as a second language for three years. Later, Kitterman got a fellowship with the Fine Arts Works Center in Provincetown, Mass., and lived and wrote there for a time. Kitterman says that was the time he felt he was taken most seriously as a writer, until recently. The only drawback was temporarily living away from Jill.

Kitterman also lived and taught in Ohio and Indiana, at one point deciding he just wasn't meant to be in a classroom.

"I quit teaching forever," Kitterman says. "Then six months later, I was back at it."

During that six-month stint, Kitterman worked in a bakery, knowledge that shows up in "The Baker's Boy." He also variously worked as a waiter, fence builder and mill worker. But since he came here with Jill and their young son Ted, now 16, in 1995, Kitterman's career has been constant, as have the presence of a novel, or novels, in his head, heart or closet. The family now includes daughter Hannah, 11, and two dogs, with other prospective canine family members often dropped off in their neighborhood alongside APSU.

Jill is an associate professor and head of the women's studies program at APSU, and Kitterman coordinates the university's creative writing program. Mentioning he's going to miss his admired colleague and fellow professor Ted Jones, who has his eye on retiring in the near future, Kitterman adds that he himself will probably stick around APSU a long time. But that doesn't keep him from the thought that someday he and Jill will live abroad again, see another culture, immerse themselves in another world that will no doubt be both welcoming and hostile.

Asked how he knows if he is doing the right thing, if he is living the right life, Kitterman says, "Finally, you just take a deep breath and you do it," Kitterman says. "The final, final lesson in 'Candide' is you stop with all these questions, and just live."

Stacy Smith Segovia is a features writer for The Leaf-Chronicle. She can be reached at 245-0720 or by e-mail at stacysegovia@theleafchronicle.com.




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Story Source: Clarksville Leaf Chronicle

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Belize; Writing - Belize

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