Hugh Ferrer

recorded in Iowa City, IA


Hugh Ferrer

This is Hugh Ferrer. I was born in New York City, and we’re now in Iowa City, where I moved in 1999 to attend the Writers’ Workshop. After the program, we started a family and we stayed in town. We didn’t have anywhere else we wanted to go, and 12 years later, we still live here, and I work at the International Writing Program, which is one of the University programs hosting writers.

The Knox Writers’ House

As a transplant, and as someone who probably reads a lot of Midwestern writing, do you think there’s a Midwestern voice?


I don’t think I’m well read enough to know the answer. But I do know that people who are connected to the land of the Midwest, as I assume people are connected to the land elsewhere, often write about the Midwest, and seem very concerned with it. Does growing up in the Midwest, does being concerned about Midwestern landscapes, Midwestern territory, and then writing about it all make you a Midwestern voice? I’m not always sure what voice means, you know, but I do think there’s….well, what did when we talked about this earlier? I said voice has place connected to it and writing doesn’t, and now I’m almost saying the exact opposite. Now I’m saying that writing can really concern itself with place but the voice might come from somewhere else. I don’t know what the terms mean, clearly, because I use them interchangeably. Do I think that there are writers working in the Midwest who are focused on the Midwest, and who try and write about the Midwest? Yes. The idea of a voice beguiles me. Accents have really flattened to the point where we Americans speak with a much more homogenous voice in general, than before the advent of television. And the GI bill and other ways in which it became very common to go to school outside your state. People from the Midwest go to the East for college and then come back. Voice seems like one of those simple terms that actually has a huge complex of issues tied up in it. Is Marilynne Robinson a Midwestern voice? Many of her novels, the ones that haven’t been set in the West have been set in Iowa. I don’t think she was credited as being a Midwestern voice by the Pulitzer committee. Is David Hamilton a Midwestern voice? He’s an English scholar, he studies medieval literature, but professionally, he spent most of his career west of the Appalachians. I think of him as someone who’s someone passing on a rhythm of Missouri farming. There’s something in his cadences that aren’t just medieval literature or the whole welter of 20th century American poetry, but also something about his upbringing seems to be in his voice. I’d have to do some research, but I think the idea of a writer’s voice somehow was raised to compete with music. With the idea of being a voice of a generation. [Plane drones overhead.] I hope the mic doesn’t pick that up. [Laughs.] You never thought about the missile attack! [Laughs.] Anyway, I’ve gone on pointlessly in answer that.


[Laughs.] No, no, it’s good.

Other Writers in

from In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje


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