A Father and an Island

My guest today is Alan Weltzien, author of A Father and an Island and professor of English at the University of Montana Western in Dillon, MT.

One reviewer, Montana writer Mary Clearman Blew, wrote: “In this moving tribute to his father and his family’s home on a Puget Sound island, Alan Weltzein returns us to a time when summers were glorious and children played all day long on beaches that were still unexploited and unrestricted—a pleasure to read.” Another, Ann Ronald, University of Nevada, Reno, described the book as “Simultaneously a paean to his father and a personal memoir about a changing landscape caught by a ‘rising tide of affluence’…”

Welcome, Alan. Tell us the inspiration for beginning work on this historical memoir.

I had thought about writing of our family life on Camano for some years—I have lived away from Puget sound for decades, though I’m a frequent visitor. The real impetus for the book, readers of it will not be surprised to hear, was my father’s death in July, 1997.

I very much enjoyed how you interwove your family history with that of Camano Island. It is a wonderful tribute to both. At what point did you decide to combine the two?

I decided to conflate stories early on.  I wanted to tell at least one version of the island’s ‘modern’ story alongside my father’s story and our family’s life there for now over half a century.

I also like the bridge metaphor for the island, for your father and you and your sons. When did you realize this connection?

Again, fairly early in the writing. Generations resemble bridges, it seems to me.

Do you still own the cabin?

Yes, we do.

What is your favorite memory of summers on “the island?”

Hot afternoons with an incoming tide, on the beach, when we played in the water for hours.

It appears that writing this book was a learning and growing experience for you. You write “No man is an island, and every island is a son.” Quite a revelation, isn’t it?

I hope so.

As a reader, I found that I reluctantly stepped out of my fast-paced world to read your lyrical, poetic flow of words. It is a good reminder to stop once in awhile and just watch the world around me. When did you first know you were a writer? Thank you.  I was slow to discover I wanted to be a writer.  As a professor I’d been publishing scholarly articles and that sort of thing, but more than a dozen years ago I realized that didn’t feel like enough. I wanted to try my hand at nonfiction.

What made you decide to become an English professor?

I knew I wanted to be a teacher by adolescence; by the time I went off to college, I’d decided I wanted to be a professor, and by my second year, I knew I loved literature and writing more than about anything else.

What advice do you give your students who are aspiring authors?

I teach expository and critical writing, as well as nonfiction. In all cases, but more so in upper-level classes, I stress to students that writing is about rewriting. “A Father and an Island” took me eight years.

I can identify with that. My favorite quote for writers is Hemingway: “There are no great writers, only great re-writers.”

You have published books on Montanans Rick Bass and John McPhee and recently edited The Norman Maclean Reader. Do you have another book in the works? Any fiction?

Yes, I’ve started drafting a book about Washington’s five volcanoes. It will be a sort of environmental and cultural history, particularly as it focuses upon changing human impacts upon these special places I also want to try my hand at a novel, one which involves a somewhat forgotten Montana novelist as main character.

Alan’s books are available via amazon.com.  For “A Father and an Island,” check out the amazon.com readers’ reviews and the editorial review.  “The Norman Maclean Reader” can also be ordered directly from the University of Chicago Press website.

Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 1:29 am  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for this interview.

    I heard Alan’s lecture on Thomas Savage (“The Pass”) during the Helena Bookfest, and it was a wonderfully informative and entertaining talk. I’m looking forward to reading his book.

  2. What a thrill to read this interesting review. I love his connection to my home place, Camano Island, WA.
    Thank you, Heidi.

  3. Heidi,
    Interesting interview. After reading this I checked out A Father and An Island on Amazon and have now added it to my list of must read books. One reviewer wrote: “our sons and daughters are not our image, but of our image.” I thought of Kahlil Gibran’s On Children, which condensed says: You can give them love and house their bodies, but they will grow up different from you. For that is how it is. He ends with these words: “For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesteryear.” My father died when I was five and yet he was a big influence on my life. I lived in NW Montana with a creek to play in and hills to climb. I’m sorry most of our children cannot do so as well. Eunice “Eunie”

  4. Heidi, A very nice interview with Alan. I enjoyed reading about his island. Thank you.

  5. Nice interview, Heidi. I had not heard of this book, but was familiar with Alan’s name because of the Norman McLean reader, which I dip into from time to time. I’ll look out for this one about Camano Island, an island I used to visit frequently, but not so much these days.

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