Gerald Hausman is an award-winning, bestselling author of over 70 books. He is best known for his works about Native Americans, animals, mythology and West Indian culture. He has received 35 awards and commendations from Bank Street College, International Reading Association, American Bookseller, Parents’ Choice, American Folklore Society, The New York Public Library, The Bulletin for Children’s Literature among others. It has been said that “… he displays a deeper understanding of the natural world than most writers of our generation,” and that “he awakens, not only the poet’s skill and sensitivity, but also our own nature, power and inherent divinity.”
His latest book, Guns, is an anthology of more than 20 contributors with stories that range from The Momaday Gun by Pulitzer Prize-winning author N. Scott Momaday to Choice of Weapons by New York Times bestselling author Jane Linkdskold. Stay Thirsty Magazine was very pleased to visit with Gerald Hausman at his home in Santa Fe for this Conversation.
STAY THIRSTY: Your new book, GUNS, is an anthology of short stories and poems that each involves a gun. What was your purpose in creating this book?
GERALD HAUSMAN: Our sole purpose was to open a conversation that seems to have been shut tight since guns have become not just ubiquitous but dangerously dominant in a culture which doesn't always know how to use them. It's a scary world and guns have made it that much scarier. And safer at the same time. That is the conundrum as old as gunpowder.
STAY THIRSTY: The gun is part and parcel of the American story. Why do you think that is so?
GERALD HAUSMAN: The American Revolution may be the major event of the gun paradigm in this country. That is to say our realization that the freedom of the colonies depended upon the right to bear arms in the violent threat of a "foreign" power on
American soil. The first to fall in this struggle
was Crispus Attucks, a black American Indian fighting on the American side. To
see this history up close, in diary form, is helpful, and the writers we chose to do this have historical relevance and power. The gun was there, we were there
(some of us, anyway, in lineage) and many of those old colonial families have a
story to tell about how the gun served them well and saved many lives. We may
have forgotten that part of it, lost in the annals of war and popular films
featuring "gun heroes."
STAY THIRSTY: You say that while we don’t have the vocabulary to frankly discuss sex, we do when talking about the role of the gun in our lives. Why do you think the gun brings out the best and the worst in people?
GERALD HAUSMAN: Actually the book states that Lawrence's remark about Americans and sex also applies to Americans and guns: "We don't really know how to talk about them except in the political sense – and this usually comes out in a fiery bloom of passion harking back to the Second Amendment, which, as we know was about arming militias during the Revolutionary War, not about the personal rights of citizens. It was about preparedness for imminent war." The gun seems to bring out the best and worst, as you wisely say, because we don't know what to do with it. I think we are waiting for some new, scientific and technological breakthrough whereby the gun may end up an historical art object. Or perhaps a Gandhi-like individual will come along and tutor us on non-violence all over again. Unlikely at this point, and one might ask the question, is the gun somehow etched into our own DNA? One thing the book points out is that guns are with us even if we are not with them. So the whole insight here is once again a bit of a conundrum. As Marcus Garvey said, "The guns are the rulers and mankind merely the trigger finger." The question now is – Is that selfsame trigger finger coded into the mechanism of our human brain?
STAY THIRSTY: You have assembled short stories and poems from writers both known and unknown. Which one is your favorite and why?
GERALD HAUSMAN: I am partial to Scott Momaday who inspired the collection and whose lead told me it was worth doing. So it all began with his story about Billy the Kid's gun. We have never had a writer with as much poetical oratory and
storytelling gift as Scott. Going back into Plains Indian history, you
might find one. But as for placing the lilt and beauty and forcefulness from
oral speech into written prose, I know of no one greater.
STAY THIRSTY: You have stories from such accomplished authors as N. Scott Momaday, Aram Saroyan, Jane Lindskold, Hilary Hemingway & Jeff Lindsay and Clyde H. Farnsworth, to name just a few. How did you pick the stories for GUNS?
GERALD HAUSMAN: Honestly, that was the easy part. If you build it, they will come, but in this case, if you ask they will send.
STAY THIRSTY: You quote Thomas Jefferson in the Epigraphs: “Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks. Never think of taking a book with you.” Do you think we are entering a period in American history where Jefferson’s quote might again be highly relevant?
GERALD HAUSMAN: Indeed, that is so. I was speaking with a family member the other day and she said she was thinking of carrying a gun in her car for protection. The big problem, as I see it, is that non-users need to learn the ethic of gun use and firearm handling and a whole lot of other things relating to having a weapon of such power that it could take a life. Aram Saroyan speaks of that in his poem about seeing a gun that his father once owned.
STAY THIRSTY: Have guns played a role in your life and do you now own a gun?
GERALD HAUSMAN: I was raised in the old Boy Scout tradition – guns are not toys, guns are guns and you must not use them off the rifle range, or some such. So I became conversant with guns as a kid. My dad claimed he did not have a gun in the house except for a .22 rifle that worked and a shotgun that did not. But after he died we found two handguns he stored away in an old trunk. The mystery of that continues to haunt me and curiously, it is a story similar to Clyde Farnsworth's in the Anthology. In a page and a half Clyde's story unveils the unveiled truth of the gun – every family has a tale to tell and many have not told it in many a generation. Bill Worrell's story/ballad is a case in point. An entire family dislodged and dislocated due to a terrible incident with a gun. The family name was changed, their history in a sense erased because of one crazy incident of anger and revenge. Incidentally, my wife's family originally settled in Questa, New Mexico in the late 1800s and we have her great-great grandfather's Colt .44. It has notches in the handle and we were told by her father that those were for cattle rustlers. As I was saying, every family has a gun story of some kind.
STAY THIRSTY: What is next up on your drawing board?
GERALD HAUSMAN: I have written a novel called Evil Chasing Way about UFOs in New Mexico, military secrets, cattle mutilations and native origin stories from Navajo storytellers and translators. This story went through many revisions over the past 20 years and a lot of new material was added in the last draft. The novel is set in the late 70s, I was there and I was privileged to see firsthand many of the things I wrote about. Some parts of it still scare me, which is why I took so long to complete this in the right way. I nearly lost my life with this book, not once but twice. And I stopped working on it for two years and I vowed I would quit writing altogether when my life was threatened. It's all in the book.
(Header photo credit: Alice Carney; Gerald Hausman photo credit: Mariah Fox)