A Conversation with Bob Barsanti
….. The half-moon lights the easy waves as the roll over each other and up the beach. A wind carries up from the southwest, bringing sand and spray up the beach. It has grown cold enough to annoy and to chill, but not to kill. The constellations edge around the sky.
If you stay out there long enough to see the Orion move across the sky and to see the moon ease into the west and to feel the chill and wet settle in, you may feel the gravity of poverty. You have cast the luxury of your life away and you stand, chilled, before the unimpressed waves. —from "The Outer Most House", an essay by Bob Barsanti.
Most Nantucketers and her visitors have read Bob Barsanti’s work. He is a writer who paints lavish prose portraits, sparing no amount of medium on his canvas. His work is at once a visceral blitz, a compilation of finely wrought words forming a narrative at once as poetic as it is narrative. And it is spot-on Nantucket.
Born in Wakefield, Mass, Bob worked as an English teacher at the Nantucket High School from 1987-2005, an interpreter for the Nantucket Historical Association, an English teacher at Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut, and now teaches high school in Pittsfield, Mass., where he lives with his fiance, Ruth Burday. His two boys, Rourke, 13, and Beck, 11 live on Nantucket with their mother, Sydney Fee. They “commute” to Nantucket to a house on Crooked Lane, most weekends and throughout the summer months. Bob finds the distance of being a “part time” Nantucketer provides him with the space and perspective to write about the framework of a community surrounded and informed by the natural world.
In 2007, Suzanne Daub, editor of Yesterday’s Island, approached Bob to write a regular column for the weekly, after reading some of his essays about island life on Yack On, an online website started by his brother–in-law. At first Bob declined Suzanne’s offer, declaring he wasn’t “ready to commit to something with a deadline. “ But the idea grew on him, and by 2008, Bob had published his first comprehensive collection of essays called Sand In My Shoes, many from his well-received column in Yesterday’s Island. He now also writes essays and reflections on island life for The Guest Room column on NantucketChronicle.com and has been published in Down East magazine, N Magazine, and a plethora of educational periodicals. In 2012 he published his first novel, Milestone Road, and this spring Bob will be publishing his second essay collection, hopefully in time for his place “Under The Tent” with other illustrious Nantucket writers for the 2013 Nantucket Book Festival.
I had the opportunity recently to ask Bob a few questions. Here are his answers:
What about Nantucket and her isolation inspires your writing? Nature and community are big themes in your work, do you have a particular place on Island that motives your essays?
--I don’t know if there is any one place that inspires my writing in particular. I find myself writing about the boat more often than not, but I don’t know if that inspires my thinking. The boat is that transition from mainland to island where all the rules change. Otherwise, I suppose I am as inspired by the Downyflake as anywhere else. The restaurants and the donuts remain a touchstone to most islanders.
How would you describe your narrative style?
--Honestly, I don’t think about my style much. When I look back on the pieces I like the most, they tend to be circular, where the reader looks at one thing one way in the first paragraph and then regards it in a different way in the last. I tend to write more personal work these days.
How do you see yourself as a writer in five years? Ten?
--I work at being a novelist and I would like to get better at writing longer works. Hopefully, people will still be reading novels in a decade. Otherwise, I am happy writing the essays I am writing right now. I keep waiting for my brain to dry up and blow away, but it keeps letting ideas grow.
What are you reading? What’s on your night table right now? And what book have you read in the past that has stuck with you through thick and thin. Are you a re-reader?
--I am a re-reader and I am an English teacher, so I tend to plod like a milk horse through many old streets and alleys. When I think back at my writing, I look back at three works: Beston’s “The Outermost House”, White’s “One Man’s Meat,” and the columns of Louise Aldrich Bugbee. Right now, I am slowly reading “Nantucket: A Natural History” and am preparing “Our Town” for my seniors.
What are you most looking forward to at the 2013 Nantucket Book Festival?
--I enjoy seeing what other people have written or think about the island.
Ryder S. Ziebarth, a freelance writer, was most recently published in the Metropolitan Diary section in the New York Times, Brevity, a flash- nonfiction literary journal, N magazine and NantucketChronicle.com among other publications. Here are her other interviews with Nantucket Book Festival authors Nat Philbrick, Kathryn Kay, Ann Leary and Nancy Thayer. Here's more information about the 2013 Nantucket Book Festival.