Interview with Ben Fountain

Ben Fountain

For our fifth episode of the tour we took a trip down to North Carolina to visit with award winning novelist Ben Fountain. Fountain was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and grew up in the tobacco country North Carolina. Fountain earned a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1980, and a law degree from the Duke University School of Law in 1983. He is a classic late bloomer, keeping his writing ambition on a steady but cool burn for most of his life until well into his forties when in 1988 he quit practicing real estate law at Akin Gump in Dallas. As he told Malcolm Gladwell in a New Yorker profile, “I was tremendously apprehensive… I felt like I’d stepped off a cliff and I didn’t know if the parachute was going to open. Nobody wants to waste their life, and I was doing well at the practice of law. I could have had a good career. And my parents were very proud of me—my dad was so proud of me. . . . It was crazy.” Crazy or not his long apprenticeship produced two highly acclaimed works of fiction, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara and Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk
As Gladwell writes, ‘the reviews were sensational, drawing comparisons to Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Robert Stone, and John le Carré.” Best-selling novelist and Vietnam War vet Karl Marlantes (Matterhorn) called Billy Lynn “the Catch-22 of the Iraq War,” Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk was later made into a movie by award winning director Ang Lee
We discuss in the 53 minute interview Fountain’s early life growing up in North Carolina, his fascination with Haiti and how he honed his writing skills over a 12 year period visiting that poverty stricken island. We go onto discuss his collection of short stories and some of the technical challenges involved in writing Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk. Fountain gives us a heads up as to what he is reading as well as a new book of non fiction essays about the 2016 election coming out this September. I hope you enjoy this fun ride on the radio book tour bus.

Ben’s Recommendations:


Anna Badkhen. Her most recent two books are The World Is a Carpet: A Year in an Afghan Village, and Walking with Abel, both published by Riverhead. Her next book appears March 13 and is called Fishermen’s Blues,  Ben thinks  ” It’s her best yet (and the prior two were home runs). Anna hasn’t had her breakout yet, and she’s overdue. I really hope Blues will be the one. It is gorgeous.”

Some of the poets I mentioned are Cate Marvin, Morgan Parker, Tim Seibles, Alan Shapiro, and Jehrico Brown.

Here is the podcast on Soundcloud

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