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Robert Coover prefers to write in cafés — in other countries

Robert Coover lives near Brown University where he teaches.
Robert Coover lives near Brown University where he teaches.Stew Milne for the boston globe

Robert Coover’s first novel, “The Origin of the Brunists,” concerns a doomsday prophet and his followers. It was published in 1966. Since then, he has established himself as a preeminent voice of the American avant garde and a strong proponent of incorporating technology into creative writing. Earlier this month, Coover released his latest novel, “The Brunist Day of Wrath,” a sequel to his long-ago debut. Coover lives next to Brown University, where he has taught for more than three decades, but he rarely writes in Providence.

CAFÉ SOCIETY: [My] daytime writing happens in cafés. The cafés I’ve used have been primarily overseas, [since] most of the writing I do is out of the country. At noon, I get up and play around with [my work] a bit . . . and then head off to a café. There’s usually a favorite or two in one neighborhood or another. Around Brown there aren’t — they’re usually filled with students, and I try to avoid that.

NIGHT SHIFT: Working at night started out as just a bad habit, but soon it became essential . . . I didn’t work at anything but temporary jobs until the early ’80s, and by that time, I was 50. I had somehow managed to escape the day-to-day with writing and the occasional teaching gig, and finally it became a necessity to find something steady. With that, I found myself getting drawn deeper and deeper into activities that had nothing to do with the writing. I had been [writing at night] for other reasons because of how my metabolism worked and how raising a family worked . . . but when I got into full-time university stuff, I had to do it as self-protection.


Coover’s home is filled with postcards and other items from his travels.
Coover’s home is filled with postcards and other items from his travels.Stew Milne for the Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

DIGITAL INSPIRATION: One of the things I managed to do in the final decade of my teaching was to shift entirely to electronic writing . . . I was able to escape, finally, the debilitating experience of reading student manuscripts all day, then trying to write yourself. That can be by itself disruptive — you can find yourself having a hard time getting out of the cadences of a workshop seminar type of situation, and your head gets full of these stupid things that get said.


DOWN IN THE MINES: I wrote [“The Origin of the Brunists”] in the ’60s and had contrived a sequel, maybe even two if I had written them at that time. I was writing that book reluctantly. I had by that time written some of the stories that were in “Pricksongs and Descants,” and I was convinced that that was the direction I was going to go. Several times, I almost gave up on the Brunist book, but I decided as a duty to the craft I would go down into the coal mine so I could work my way out of it, hopefully without a disaster . . . I left those sequel ideas moldering in the bottom drawer, and every now and then, I’d pull them out and reconsider them and think, “That’s a good story, I really should do it.” . . . until the election of young Bush, a moment of the revival of the evangelical crowd. I had an almost visceral reaction to these crowds of extremists. That was 10 to 12 years ago, and it’s consumed me ever since.

COMIC TOUCH: A lesson I learned from reading [Thomas Pynchon’s] “V” has stuck with me all my life: All my work is basically comic, and even though this book has very harsh and violent scenes, its modus is still comedy. That’s the only thing I have ever written. Even though they’re not always viewed as such, the books are all meant as comic works.


Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached eugenia.williamson @gmail.com