SA4QE 2015 - Yvonne Studer - Zürich, Switzerland

SA4AE 2015
This year I felt a bit nostalgic and sad on Russ's birthday. So, rather than to venture out into the cold, I decided to stay at home and share my quotation only on Facebook (and here). In a note, I added the story of how I visited Russ for the very first time. After printing out the quotation on yellow paper and taking a photo of it placed next to one of the beautiful illustrations in a new edition of the book it came from I made it my Facebook cover photo.

"The real thing is always more than you're ready for."

When I visited Russell Hoban for the very first time in about 1990, I was frightened and full of doubt about what I was doing. I had written an M.A. thesis about his novels for adults and sent it to him. He read it, sent back a detailed response in which he had even timed his commentaries, and finally invited me to come to his house and talk to him.

It took a while before I dared to accept the invitation. It also took some time and a lot of scrimping and saving before I could afford to buy a ticket from Zurich to London. But as I wanted to turn my M.A. thesis into a doctoral dissertation, I knew I couldn’t let that opportunity go. So I pulled myself together and wrote another letter to accept the invitation.

After thinking of a set of questions I was going to ask him and buying a small tape recorder so as not to miss anything I flew to London. I was 26 years old then and felt like a fairy-tale character embarking on a dangerous quest. I arrived a bit late, having got lost in Fulham, but Russell Hoban was kind. He offered me wine and readily took part in my Q&A game. However, somehow I felt disappointed because he didn't answer those questions I was most interested in but only those he had answered in almost the same words in interviews I had read. Now that I am older I understand him very well. At the time, though, it didn’t occur to me that a famous person could feel just as scared to talk about private subjects as I was scared to talk to him. When I left, I knew that I had missed the chance to really get to know my favourite writer, for his invitation to talk to him hadn’t been an invitation to conduct an interview.

It grew even worse, though, for when I sent him the interview, which I had typed up naïvely, unaware that one should transcribe them exactly as they were given and without rearranging questions or editing answers, he wrote back a harsh note to tell me I wasn’t allowed to publish the interview in my dissertation. I felt crushed, especially since I wasn’t aware of what I had done to deserve this rejection.

Anyhow, I didn’t run away but carried on working on my doctoral thesis, striving to improve my skills and my understanding until I was able to submit and then publish it. Since I wanted to show Russell Hoban that I hadn’t used the interview, I sent him a copy of my book without expecting to hear from him. I got a job where I learned how to use the internet and one of the first things I googled for was “Russell Hoban”, and that’s when things began to change.

Why? Because I discovered Dave Awl’s fabulous Head of Orpheus website, the first "official website", became a member of its e-mail discussion group The Kraken, and nearly fainted when Russell Hoban suddenly got in touch with me again in 2002, after reading my doctoral thesis and my contributions to The Kraken. But I was ready then, no longer scared, and I owe him and all my other friends from The Kraken some of the best experiences of my life.

Russ passed in December 2011, I miss him and feel sad that there won’t be any more e-mails from and books by him, but at the same time I am happy that the real thing first showed itself to me through him and that his work continues to touch people all over the world.

Happy Russ’s Birthday, everyone!

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