Interview: Drew Bratcher

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For N13, we interviewed some of our contributors. Hear from Drew Bratcher on witnessing real poverty and the storytellers on the coast of Northern Ireland.

How do you take notes on the road?

I got into the practice of carrying a pen and pocket notepad back when I worked as a reporter. It’s a habit I haven’t kicked. One time I met a journalist from a big-name paper who told me he never took notes, not even during interviews. If it was important, it would stick, that was his theory. I can’t do that. I’m always making observations, always hearing phrases, but without a place to record them, I draw blanks down the road.

What’s the worst place you ever travelled to?

My first encounter with real poverty, the kind with a physical manifestation in the eyes and skin, was in a trash dump outside of Matamoros, Mexico. The people I found living there amid the hills and pools of garbage confounded me, still do. They were among the kindest and most generous I’ve ever met. Later, in the workshop at Iowa, when I heard Marilynne Robinson say that poverty of circumstance does not necessarily mean poverty of experience, I thought of Matamoros.

What are your favorite “travel” books?

More and more I value books that go beyond physical description, books that circle around the essence of a place, books like James Galvin’s The Meadow, any collection of Seamus Heaney’s poetry, John Berger’s Into Their Labours trilogy, the photographs of William Christenberry and George Georgiou, Edward P. Jones’s short stories, Melville’s Encantadas, and — one from my hometown — Paul Hemphill’s The Nashville Scene. For guidebooks, you’d be hard pressed to find a more sundry and visually striking set than Taylor Bruce’s Wildsam Field Guides.

What was the last movie you saw and what did you think of it?

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.” A brilliant conception, a beautiful film, but for my money Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” is the more resonant and expansive Texas coming-of-age picture.

What do you do every day to keep yourself entertained when not on the road?

I have three very young kids, plenty entertainment for three lifetimes and then some.

Where would you move if you could and why?

For the hills and fields and stone and sea, for the storytellers, for the pubs, I’d pick the coast of Northern Ireland, maybe Country Antrim, maybe Country Down.
 Read Drew Bratcher’s Letter from Istanbul in N13 today!
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