Andre Dubus (1936-1999)
Over the years, both Xavier Review Press and Xavier Review have taken a particular interest in Andre Dubus.
The short story writer and essayist started life in Lake Charles, Louisiana and ended in Haverhill, Massachusetts where he became known as a Southern writer who no longer lived in the South. He graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop after a stint in the Marines.
His career was one built on publishing pieces in small, but distinguished, literary journals and his realistic writings often explored the turbulent relationships between men and women. He was a lifelong Catholic whose faith influenced his work. In later years, his writing explored his perspective as a “cripple,” a word he preferred to “kinder” labels. He became wheelchair bound after being struck by a car on the side of the highway one night – he had pulled over to assist two disabled motorists.
In 1993, Andre Dubus’s “The Bully” was included in an XRP anthology of writers exploring real and metaphysical worlds. Many of the writers were unknown; Dubus came to the attention of the editors thanks to his cousin, James Lee Burke.
Above Ground: Stories about Life and Death by New Southern Writers
Edited by Thomas Bonner, Jr. and Robert E. Skinner
In 2001, two years after Dubus’s death, Xavier Review Press published:
Andre Dubus: Tributes
Edited by Donald Anderson
The book brings together a wide cross-section of American writers and scholars who share reminiscences and works of criticism. There is a foreword by Andre Dubus III and an afterword by Tobias Wolff.
And in 2003 (reprinted in 2010):
Leap of the Heart: Andre Dubus Talking
Edited by Ross Gresham
This anthology includes twenty-four of the best of these interviews, ranging in time from early in Dubus's career to the last one, conducted the day before he died of a heart attack in 1999. Also included is a chronological bibliography of all interviews conducted with Dubus, with notes on and excerpts from the ones not reprinted in the collection.
Xavier Review has also proven to be a resource for the Dubus scholar over the years.
From 1988, Vol. 8, Issues 1 & 2 features an interview with Dubus, conducted by Patrick Samway, S.J.
From 2003, Vol. 23, Issue 1 there is the essay “Catholic Palimpsest: The Louisiana Stories of Andre Dubus” by Marcia Gaudet.
In 2010, Xavier Review dedicated Vol. 30, Issue 2
The following was written by former Managing Editor of XR/XRP, Robert Skinner.
Andre Dubus & Me
I’ve been a librarian for most of my adult life, and throughout that time I’ve been fascinated by writers and writing. It happens that for over thirty years I’ve also lived in New Orleans, which is, for its relatively small size, a place unusually rich in writers and writing lore. Mostly by accident I’ve met many writers associated with the Crescent City and have had the pleasure of dining or sharing cocktails with the likes of Anne Rice, Shirley Ann Grau, Robert Olen Butler, James Lee Burke, and others.
Meeting so many writers gave me the idea of creating a special library collection of signed books at my school, and over a period of nearly twenty-five years, we’ve gathered a rich collection of Louisiana writers at Xavier. It is a little ironic, however, that the writer I’ve had the greatest and most rewarding association with is one whom I never met, namely Andre Dubus.
One of the things that has made my librarianship at Xavier University particularly rewarding was my association with Dr. Tom Bonner and the magazine he founded, Xavier Review. Tom recognized almost immediately that my interest in creative writing rivaled his own, and he asked me to work with him as managing editor, a post I held until 2010.
In the early 1990s, Tom and I were discussing the idea of producing a book of short stories by Louisiana writers. It was something of a leap for us, because we’d been struggling for several years just to get the Review out on schedule. Our ignorance protected us from all the work it would entail, but it was an idea that wouldn’t let go of us. After all, together we knew quite a few Louisiana writers, so how hard could it be?
It happened that I had made the acquaintance of James Lee Burke, and I asked him for the use of one of his many short stories. He was kind enough to contribute, but he did something else. “You ought to contact my cousin, Andre,” Burke said. “He’s the best short story writer I know.”
Burke explained that his cousin was recuperating from an accident and would probably be happy to see his work included in a new collection. Without really understanding whom I would be talking to, I made the call. Dubus answered. The call didn’t last long. I told him who I was, what I was trying to do, and mentioned James Lee Burke had told me to call. Dubus’s answer was short. “Use ‘The Bully,’” he said. And he gave me a name at David Godine to call in order to get the necessary permissions. If I had only understood who I was talking to, I’d have tried to keep him on the line a bit longer, but I’d gotten what I needed and ended the call. I read “The Bully” and was extremely impressed by it. I made it a point to look for more of Andre Dubus’s work after that.
In 1993 Tom Bonner and I published our book, and although we didn’t sell many copies, the book got good notices, possibly thanks to the presence of James Lee Burke and his cousin Andre. Perhaps because “The Bully” has not been anthologized elsewhere, the book is now something of a collector’s item.
Meanwhile, my day job claimed my attention from time to time. One of my ambitions as a librarian had been to found a department of archives and special collections at Xavier. It was an ambitious undertaking, but with so many writers actively working in the Crescent City, it seemed to me that we had boundless opportunities to collect manuscript material, signed books and related ephemera. By now Andre Dubus was high on my list of people to collect, and over a period of a few years, we acquired signed copies all of Andre’s books in the first edition.
The fact that we were busily acquiring Dubus books did not go unnoticed. A rare book dealer in Hadley, Massachusetts named Ken Lopez was paying attention. One day he called me and offered an astounding proposition. He reminded me that Andre Dubus was out of work due to his injuries and needed some money. Would we be interested in purchasing original holograph manuscripts? I wasn’t sure we could afford them, but Lopez named a figure and, with some trepidation, I agreed. For several years after that, we would buy manuscripts, and while we were about it, we collected original magazine appearances, clippings, photos, and anything else we could get related to Dubus and his career. As the collection grew, other book dealers caught wind of our project. Earlier this year I was offered a cache of holograph and printed material related to the separate publication of Dubus’s story, “Blessings.”
Meanwhile, the small press that Tom Bonner and I had begun on the foundation of Xavier Review had published several more books, and he had, himself, gained some friends at the U. S. Air Force Academy where he was a visiting professor for a few years. There, too, Andre Dubus had fans and admirers. He had been published in their literary magazine and his work was regularly discussed in English classes. Then, in 1999, Dubus died an untimely death and the literary world went into mourning at his passing.
Sometime in the year 2000 our new friends at the Air Force Academy came up with an interesting proposition. How would we like to publish a book that was both a literary exploration of Dubus’s career and a tribute to his memory? They would, of course, handle the design, typesetting, and pay all the bills. All we had to do was put our imprint on it. And who would the contributors be? Just some of the guys—James Lee Burke, Tobias Wolff, Alan Cheuse, Tim Parrish, Doris Betts, Father Pat Samway, Andre III—people like that. We may have thought about it for ten seconds or so before saying “yes.”
It was suggested that the book needed a descriptive bibliography of Dubus’s work to be complete, and as the only librarian in the group, the task fell to me. It turned out to be quite an odyssey, one that allowed me to learn more about Dubus the writer.
The bibliographer’s art isn’t well understood, and one could liken it to detective work, since you try to pin down with accuracy the when and where of the appearance of a piece of writing. Since nearly all of Dubus’s work is short fiction, tracking down that when and where wasn’t always easy. Dubus, for the most part, published his work in established magazines and journals, but occasionally he throws the bibliographer a curve. Take his fortieth story, “After the Game,” which was published in the first volume of something called Fiction Network, which I could locate nowhere.
Studying Dubus’s fiction sometimes produced a “why.” Take the stories “The Cross Country Runner,” “Love is in the Sky,” and “Madeline Sheppard.” Chronologically these were the fourth, fifth, and eighth stories Dubus published, and all appeared in the Midwestern University Quarterly. Neither of these stories has ever been anthologized, either by Dubus, himself, or any other editor. Given that Dubus is one of the more anthologized of American short fiction writers, one is left to wonder if Dubus, himself, had such reservations about these stories that he wouldn’t allow them to be republished.
Dubus was fierce in his devotion to his words, and I learned that earning a lot of money for a story did not countermand that devotion. He writes in an essay that he was paid more than $2,000 for the publication of his ninth story in The New Yorker in 1968, but the triumph was dulled by the fact that he’d allowed three words to be excised from the story by the editor. He writes further that the experience excited him, but scared him at the same time.
Much later in his career, he sold a story entitled “The Misogamist” to Penthouse, but was dismayed to learn that in a sixteen-page manuscript, eighty-five changes had been made without his permission. His explosive reaction lost him a subsequent sale to Penthouse, but one notes that he all but turned his back on slick magazines after that. These small bits of bibliographic knowledge seem essential to knowing the kind of writer and man Dubus was.
Andre Dubus: Tributes came out in 2001, and proved to be the best-selling book Xavier Review Press had ever published. I was pleased to be included among so many literary stars, and was also pleased when the bibliography was lavishly praised. Even a librarian likes a little attention now and then.
It wasn’t long before we were approached by another of our friends at the Air Force Academy, Dr. Ross Gresham. Ross had been a contributor to Tributes, and pitched to us the idea for a book of interviews with Dubus. Again we said yes, and this book sold out its first edition.
Meanwhile, back in the library where I was supposed to be doing my real job, the Dubus collection was gaining some renown, since it was one of only two available to Dubus scholars. More lately, the great mass of Dubus’s manuscript material and correspondence has found a home at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. I’m glad they found a good home, but it’s a bittersweet feeling for me as a librarian.
I’m due to retire in the not too distant future, but I’m conscious of having been brushed by a great man. In my small way I got to be part of his story, and I’m grateful for the association, fleeting though it’s been.