When I met Larry Brown, I idolized him because of his writing. After I got to know him, I idolized him because he was an amazing person.
I met him on my first book tour and although I was in awe and completely stupid in my admiration, he immediately put me at ease by shrugging off my compliments about his writing. I bet theys some real good squirrel hunting up there where youre from, he said, to change the subject. And a friendship was born, because no other writer I knew had ever talked to me about squirrel hunting, or the beauty of fishing on a still, mist-shrouded lake at the break of daylight, or the joys of Case pocketknives. No other writer I knew understood the magic of driving around in a pickup truck listening to music during the gloaming. Larry and I began a letter correspondence that I will always treasure. Although his books were dark, his letters were shot through with light and happiness. When I went to visit him, we sat out in his coolpad (what he called his office) and hed close his eyes when he sang and played songs on his Gibson Hummingbird. Wed drive out to his shack (his term, although his writing-cabin on his pond was anything but) and sit on the porch and drink and smoke and sing and occasionally hed say something like Listen to them crickets, bro. He loved where he was from and he loved everything around him and he paid attention to it all.
He became my literary father, giving me advice (Book tour is good and all, but stay home with them babies as much as you can), helping me find my way, and always making sure that I was well-fed when I was in Oxford (Theys some good ribs in there, man. Go get you some).
At his funeral, his Hummingbird stood right beside his casket and at the graveside every single person sang Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
A great wind tore through the cedars and we all looked up, knowing that was him.
The next time Im on the lake when the sun comes up or buying a new Case pocketknife or hearing the crickets on a summer evening, hell be there. Just like his writing, Larry will never really leave. Because everyone who ever read his books or heard him sing or knew him will always carry him around in their blood.
Larry Brown was a great writer. His work surpassed and transcended state, class, and region. His death is world literatures loss. Younger writers have lost a loyal and constant supporter. I miss him as a friend, and as a literary comrade-in-arms. All the land mourns. n