by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — “I would rather die than see a coward in the mirror,” best-selling author Andre Dubus III told the audience at the chapel in College Hall at Vermont College of Fine Arts this past summer. Dubus was recounting a decision he made during an episode of his impoverished, gritty northern New England childhood. He was the featured guest of a visiting writers series funded by the Vermont Humanities Council and Bear Pond Books.
During Dubus III’s presentation, Thomas Christopher Greene, author and VCFA president, asked questions leading him to describe his influences and philosophy. Having introduced Dubus as “our most famous dropout,” the two engaged in a spirited conversation that would likely be too edgy for primetime during a public conversation about writing authentically and life as a writer.
Dubus III’s famous writer father, Andre Dubus II, had left the family when the children were young leaving his “movie star gorgeous” mother to raise the kids alone. But before Dubus II left the family, Dubus III described how he kept the boat afloat when writing did not bring in enough cash. “My dad was selling blood and we were getting welfare cheese.” In relaying how his experiences became the basis for his memoir titled “Townie,” Dubus III talked about how his family “moved from one shitty mill town to another.” He characterized his school life as difficult as well, saying, “By the time I got to high school I had been to 14 schools and was beaten up every day (because) I was a little kid who wore glasses and used adverbs.”
Dubus III described the moment he went from eschewing to embracing violence, when, as a teenager, a man came to his house to beat up his younger brother. Dubus III said he froze rather than defending his brother, which filled him with shame. He decided to get fit and learn how to box with the aim of taking on any bully who crossed his path. From there, Dubus III talked about what it was like to become a writer with the benefit of having a famous writing father but living hand to mouth. Dubus III and Greene took audience questions and held a book signing following the discussion.
Dubus III has written “The Cage Keeper and Other Stories,” “House of Sand and Fog,” “The Garden Last Days,” “Townie” and a new book, “Dirty Love.”
Greene has written “Mirror Lake,” “I’ll Never Be Long Gone,” “Envious Moon” and “The Headmaster’s Wife.” His fifth novel, “The Fierce Intensity of Now,” will be released in 2016.