Hank Lazer

recorded in Tuscaloosa, AL


Hank Lazer

My name is Hank Lazer and I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I grew up in San José, California and went to undergraduate school at Stanford, then drifted to University of Virginia for graduate work in Charlottesville and came here, to Tuscaloosa, in 1977, knowing next to nothing about Alabama, and figuring that I’d stay here a couple of years. And we’re talking today 34 years later. I married someone from here who I met at a bar called Lee’s Tomb at a New Year’s Eve party—a bar that had a bunch of confederate generals’ pictures up—and that’s a whole other story. And in terms of the writing life, it’s sort of been an unusual one. I’ve not really been affiliated with the creative writing program, per se, but I’m 15 books into a poetry career. Well, it’s not really a “career” in poetry, it’s an activity and a love. It’s not something that earns one money. It’s been a wonderful place to live. I remember when I found out that I had a job here, I called my father’s mother. My four grandparents are all Russian Jews who fled during the pogroms of the 1915, ’16, ’17 time, and for them English was not a first language, but I told my grandmother, I said, “I’m moving to Alabama,” and her reply was, “What, Hankie, with a banjo on your knee?” [Laughs.] That was her only association with the place, but I realize that I didn’t know that much more them, really. It’s been a really good place for me to live and write and it’s given me a beautiful set of sounds to listen to, a beautiful set of speech patterns and range of slang, vernacular language, that I think is a real beautiful resource of American English.

The Knox Writers’ House

Do you think that the vernacular of the South and the landscape has changed your writing?


[Laughs.] Not so much changed it, it is the writing. I think that it seeps into what you do and how you hear and how your ear orients itself toward music and sound. Absolutely. I think another aspect of place that matters a lot is that the Deep South, in particular, since I’m from California, and a lot of my artist friends are from New York area, or the North East generally, is that the Deep South is deeply subjected to profound misimpression and misunderstanding that’s a media caricature that’s a hangover from the sixties. So, identification with place becomes important. You realize, living here, that where you live will be significantly misunderstood by immediate friends and family. I’ve developed a passion for wanting to demonstrate and write a different version of that South, and to communicate what it is to be southern now, what it is to be in Alabama now, which is still something completely different from the Flannery O’Connor, Welty, Faulkner axis of things that people seem still stuck in.

Psalm by George Oppen


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