Remembering Kent Haruf Through His Final Novel, ‘Our Souls At Night’

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<p>(Michael Hughes/CPR News)</p>
<p>“Our Souls at Night,” the final novel by the late Colorado author, Kent Haruf</p>

This story first aired on 7/1/15. Editors note: DCPA had hoped to adapt "Our Souls at Night" for the stage, but a new Netflix movie deal prevented this. Read the story.

Colorado author Kent Haruf died in November at age 71 after finishing his final novel, “Our Souls at Night.”

Haruf, who lived in Salida, wrote the critically-acclaimed "Plainsong" trilogy set in the small, fictional town of Holt on Colorado’s eastern plains. "Our Souls at Night" is also set in Holt, and opens with an unexpected proposition. An older woman named Addie, whose husband is long dead, asks her neighbor, Louis, who is in a similar situation, if he will spend the nights in bed with her... not for sex, but for companionship.

During the June 11 taping of Colorado Matters at the Tattered, Haruf’s widow, Cathy, and his editor at Knopf, Gary Fisketjon, reflected on the author's distinctive style and this book, released posthumously.

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company was also present at the event. Actors from the ensemble read several chapters from the new novel, and associate artistic director Bruce Sevy made a big announcement: "Our Souls at Night" will be adapted for the stage.

Hear DCPA Theatre Company actors Chris Kendall, Billie McBride, and Kathleen McCall read the first three chapters from "Our Souls at Night."


Below are highlights from the conversation.

Cathy Haruf's first thoughts about "Our Souls at Night"

"I was so shocked and then I thought, 'This is brilliant. Why would older people -- who are isolated, by themselves, lonely -- why wouldn't they do that? Why haven't we heard about this kind of a thing?' I thought it was a brilliant idea."

Cathy Haruf on how the novel reflects her life with Kent

"So when I first read the manuscript, I realized, ah, he's talking about a couple of old people who talk all the time. As he said, that was always his favorite time of the day, when we'd lie in bed at night, hold hands, and talk over everything: the day, living, dying, kids. He loved that. So I realized that's what he's talking about."

Fisketjon on Haruf's spare prose

"One of the reviews of this book said it's 'distilled to its essence.' A wrong word fouls it all up. I mean, everything has to be exactly perfect, and I think that's true of this book."

Cathy Haruf on her husband's "writing shed"

"It was an 8-foot-by-8-foot tool shed that we bought and insulated. [We] then took sheets and stapled them up there for wallpaper. ... That was up in Maysville, when we lived in the mountains. And about two and a half years ago, we moved into Salida and brought it with us. It had a desk, a chair, a little heater, and his old upright Royal typewriter. It had a bull skull hanging on the wall so he would remember not to write bullsh*t. It had a little bookshelf in it and that was about it."

Cathy Haruf on how her husband 'wrote blind'

"His first draft of a book was always written on an old upright typewriter. He'd pull a stocking cap over his eyes, so that he wasn't distracted by punctuation or any of these things... He would type blind, and he'd be typing away. Usually it'd be a scene on a page and he said he only got off home row a couple of times and wrote gobbledygook. But yeah, it was just an old typewriter and you could hear the tap, tap, tap."

Bruce Sevy on why Haruf's books make great theater

"The characters are just so rich and simple. They have these incredible interior lives and, for an actor, I think that presents a wonderful challenge... I always find that his work makes me laugh, and then, a couple pages later, you're misting up."