Fiction Points: Ehud Havazelet

Ehud Havazelet
Ehud Havazelet

Ehud Havazelet is the author of the story collections What is it Then Between Us (1989) and Like Never Before (1998), as well as the novel Bearing the Body (2007). He teaches creative writing at the University of Oregon and holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop. What is it Then Between Us won the California Book Award and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award in 1988, and its titular story received a Pushcart Prize in the same year. Havazelet earned his first Oregon Book Award for Like Never Before and his second – the Oregon Book Awards’ Ken Kesey Award for Fiction – for Bearing the Body, which was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He is a former Stanford University Wallace Stegner Fellow (1985-1989), the recipient of two Oregon Literary Arts Fellowships (1990 and 1994), a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship (2000), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2001). In 2011, his story “Gurov in Manhattan” was selected for inclusion in the Best American Short Stories anthology. Havazelet’s work has been translated into seven languages.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

Penguins, mostly, and nuns. Almost always in a bar.

Points is primarily a blog for alcohol and drug historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

Not certain what a “drug and alcohol historian” is.  I wouldn’t say a reader primarily interested in drug use as a topic in itself would be happy with my work.  It’s not revelry like you might claim for Hunter Thompson or Kerouac or Burroughs (not much revelry in the last, I’d say) or, earlier, Huxley.  I use drugs in my work when I think the characters I’m trying to create would use them, usually as a mode of anodyne or escape.

Havazelet's second collection, Like Never Before
Havazelet’s second collection, Like Never Before

What led  you to write about drugs in the first place?

As mentioned in the last answer, it’s what my characters would do.  I grew up in the 70’s and my local deities included all the writers I listed.  I was on the slag end of the generation who believed, mostly briefly, that drugs, hallucinogens, in particular, could lead to a form of easy enlightenment.  I dabbled hard, but was–luckily, I think –physiologically not up to the requirements of prolonged research (bad stomach). But drugs as they were in the 70’s were part of my experience and the experience of the people I knew, loved, hung out with, and who make their way into my fiction.

How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a story? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal? 

Drugs don’t interest me as a topic in themselves, any more than eating, praying, sex do in themselves.  As an outgrowth of character they interest me a great deal, and this is what I should have said in answer to the first question but couldn’t ignore the set-up.  We do these things—eat, drink, make love, pray and curse god, take drugs—hoping they will make us happy, or at least let us ignore for a time what isn’t.  They’re all  adjuncts to the bigger questions, which are what I try to write about: how do you get along with the people in your life and how with yourself.

What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?

Can’t say. Depends on the people who turn up in the work.

Havazelet's Bearing the Body
Havazelet’s Bearing the Body

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that one of your books gets adapted into a major motion picture. If you have your choice, which book is it, and what song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

Well, I guess the last book, Bearing the Body, which I–alone in thinking this–think would make a cool movie. (Are you listening Debra Granik?) And I think Lou Reed doing “Perfect Day” would be wonderful, though I’d be happy to discuss it with Debra once we’re in production.