Goats and Genre and Getting Closer to the Truth: An Interview with Brad Kessler

“All flesh begins as grass,” Brad Kessler writes in his 2009 memoir Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese. This is fitting for an exploration of the relationship between pastoralism and poetry—which is quite a strong relationship, by the way. Kessler is also the author of novels Lick Creek (Scribner, 2001) and Birds in Fall (Scribner, 2006).

He is the recipient of the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Whiting Writer’s Award, a NEA fellowship, and The Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Kessler’s work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, BOMB, The Kenyon Review, and The New Yorker.

He lives in Vermont with his wife and raises dairy goats in addition to writing. Kessler’s work is “bread labor,” the kind of effort that sustains us: making cheese and writing books, crafting each detail carefully by hand. I sat down with him when he visited Chatham as the Melanie Brown Lecturer on March 16, 2011.

The Fourth River: So, I’m interested in this ambidextrous ability that you have with both nonfiction and fiction—and you started as a children’s writer.

Brad Kessler: I actually started in nonfiction. My training was in journalism, or, rather, nonfiction writing—back then, the term “creative nonfiction” didn’t exist. The first time I heard “CNF,” I thought it was a railroad line, like “the CNF doesn’t stop here anymore.” [Laughs] The children’s book writing was really a way of making money and learning how stories—particularly folk tales– were put together: a sort of infancy of narrative. It was interesting training for how to write fiction.

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