SL: I want to ask you briefly about the Midwest. You’ve said that you’re a Midwest writer in a postmodern age. I’m wondering, what does that mean, to be a “Midwest writer”?
CB: [Pause] It means you live here.
SL: Oh okay.
CB: [Laughs] It just means that you live here. I don’t think that it means much else. There are writers — Garrison Keillor is one — who regard themselves as regionalists. I happen to live in the Midwest, and so I tend to write about locales that are here, about characters with personalities I’m familiar with. But I don’t think that that’s at the center of my work. I don’t know that Louise Erdrich would say that about her work. She might say “Well, my fiction happens to have Native Americans in it, and they happen, for the most part, to live in the Midwest.”
It’s my imagination’s home, but that doesn’t mean that the fiction is about the Midwest. It takes place here. You know William Carlos Williams said that anywhere is everywhere. I don’t know if your work is determined by the location that you’re in. When I started out, I never thought I was a Midwest writer. It wasn’t until my books started to be published and the reviewers said, “Oh, he’s a Midwest writer,” that I thought, “Oh…really?”
SL: Does it feel weird to be placed under all these labels? Like “A writer’s writer” or a “Midwest writer?”