Richard Brautigan

From New World Encyclopedia

Richard Gary Brautigan (January 30, 1935 – September 14, 1984) was an American writer, best known for the novel Trout Fishing in America. Brautigan wrote ten novels, two collections of short stories and over 500 poems. Most of his novels employed satire, black comedy, and featured his interest in Zen Buddhism. After years of depression and heavy alcoholism, he committed suicide in his home in Bolinas, California. His exact date of death is unknown but it is presumed that he ended his life on September 14, 1984.

Brautigan's work captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s youth culture in America, especially California. Trout Fishing in America reflected the disjointed nature of modern life in its structure. Later his work fell out of favor.


Early years

Richard Gary Brautigan was born in Tacoma, Washington to Bernard Frederick Brautigan, Jr. (July 29, 1908 - May 27, 1994) a factory worker, laborer, and World War II veteran and Lulu Mary Keho "Mary Lou" Brautigan (April 7, 1911 - January 31, 1998) who was a waitress. Brautigan was baptized as a Roman Catholic and was raised in the Pacific northwest. His parents were divorced before he was born and his mother Mary Lou would remarry three times. He grew up with his mother, his step-fathers and other siblings. He had two half-sisters named Barbara Titland (born May 1, 1939) and Sandra Jean Porterfield (born April 1, 1945) and a half-brother named William David Folston, Jr, born on December 19, 1950. Brautigan never met his biological father but suffered physical abuse at the hands of his stepfathers, whom he always witnessed abusing his mother. Brautigan was also abused by his alcoholic mother. Many of Brautigan's childhood experiences were included in the poems and stories that he wrote from as early as the age of 13 through his high school years. His novel So The Wind Won't Blow It All Away is loosely based on childhood experiences including an incident in which Brautigan accidentally shot the brother of a close friend in the ear, injuring him only slightly.[1] Brautigan grew up in poverty, moving to various homes in the Pacific Northwest before settling in Eugene, Oregon in 1944. He lived with his stepfather Robert Porterfield for three years after Brautigan's mother and Porterfield separated, but eventually reunited with his mother and half-sisters when he was 14. Brautigan attended Lincoln Elementary School, and South Eugene High School and attended Woodrow Wilson High School for a year. On December 19, 1952, Brautigan's first poem The Light was published in the Eugene High School Newspaper. Brautigan graduated from South Eugene High School on June 9, 1953. Following graduation, he moved in with his best friend Peter Webster, whose mother became Brautigan's surrogate mother. According to several accounts, Brautigan stayed with Webster for about a year before leaving for San Francisco for the first time in August of 1954, returning to Oregon several times, apparently for lack of money.[2]

Young adult

On December 14, 1955 Brautigan was arrested for throwing a rock through a police-station window, supposedly in order to be sent to prison and fed. Instead he was sent to Oregon State Hospital on December 24, 1955 where he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and treated with electroconvulsive therapy. On February 19, 1956, Brautigan was released from the Oregon State Hospital and left for San Francisco, where he would spend most of the rest of his life (save for periods of time spent in Tokyo and Montana.)[2] In San Francisco, Brautigan met writers like Michael McClure, Jack Spicer, and Allen Ginsberg. Brautigan sought to establish himself as a writer and was known for handing out his poetry on the streets and performing at poetry clubs.

Brautigan married Virginia Dionne Adler on June 8, 1957 in Reno, Nevada. They had one daughter together, Ianthe Elizabeth Brautigan born March 25, 1960. Due to Brautigan's alcoholism the marriage broke up soon afterwards.

Literary career

Brautigan's first published "book" was The Return of the Rivers (1958), a single poem, followed by two collections of poetry: The Galilee Hitch-Hiker (1958), and Lay the Marble Tea (1959). During the 1960s Brautigan became involved in the burgeoning San Francisco counterculture scene, often appearing as a performance-poet at concerts and participating in the various activities of The Diggers.

Trout Fishing in America

In the summer of 1961, Brautigan went camping with his wife and his daughter in the Idaho Stanley Basin. While camping he completed the novels A Confederate General From Big Sur and Trout Fishing in America. A Confederate General from Big Sur was his first published novel, but it met with little critical or commercial success. This changed when his novel Trout Fishing in America was published in 1967; Brautigan was catapulted to international fame and labeled by literary critics as the writer most representative of the emerging countercultural youth-movement of the late 1960s, even though he was said to be contemptuous of hippies (as noted in Lawrence Wright's article in the April 11, 1985 issue of Rolling Stone.)[3]

Brautigan published four collections of poetry as well as another novel, In Watermelon Sugar (1968) during the decade of the 1960s. Also, in the spring of 1967, Brautigan was Poet-in-Residence at the California Institute of Technology. One Brautigan novel The God of The Martians remains unpublished. The 600 page, 20 chapter manuscript was sent to at least two editors but was rejected by both. A copy of the manuscript was discovered with the papers of the last of these editors, Harry Hooton.


During the 1970s Brautigan experimented with different literary genres, publishing several novels throughout the decade and a collection of short stories called Revenge of the Lawn in 1971. "When the 1960s ended, he was the baby thrown out with the bath water," said his friend and fellow writer, Tom McGuane. "He was a gentle, troubled, deeply odd guy." Generally dismissed by literary critics and increasingly abandoned by his readers, Brautigan's popularity waned throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s. His work remained popular in Europe, however, as well as in Japan, and Brautigan visited there several times.[4] To his critics, Brautigan was willfully naive. Lawrence Ferlinghetti said of him, "As an editor I was always waiting for Richard to grow up as a writer. It seems to me he was essentially a naïf, and I don't think he cultivated that childishness, I think it came naturally. It was like he was much more in tune with the trout in America than with people."[5]

From late 1968 to February 1969, Brautigan recorded a spoken-word album for The Beatles' short-lived record-label, Zapple. The label was shut down by Allen Klein before the recording could be released, but it was eventually released in 1970 on Harvest Records as Listening to Richard Brautigan.[6] Brautigan's writings are characterized by a remarkable and humorous imagination. The permeation of inventive metaphors lent even his prose-works the feeling of poetry. Evident also are themes of Zen Buddhism like the duality of the past and the future and the impermanence of the present. Zen Buddhism and elements of the Japanese culture can be found in his novel Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel.

In 1976, Brautigan met Akiko Yoshimura in Tokyo, Japan. They left for Montana early in 1977 and were married on December 1, 1977. However, the marriage broke up on December 4, 1979; the divorce finalized November 7, 1980.


In 1984, at age 49, Richard Brautigan died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot-wound to the head in Bolinas, California. The exact date of his death is unknown, but it is speculated that Brautigan ended his life on September 14, 1984 after talking to Marcia Clay, a former girlfriend, on the telephone. Robert Yench, a private investigator, found Richard Brautigan's heavily decomposed body on the living-room floor of his house on October 25, 1984.

Brautigan once wrote, "All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds."


Trout Fishing In America is the work most closely associated with Brautigan. It is an abstract book without a clear central storyline. Instead, the book contains a series of anecdotes broken into chapters, with the same characters often reappearing from story to story. The phrase "Trout Fishing in America" is used in multiple ways: it is the title of the book, a character, a hotel, the act of fishing itself, a modifier (one character is named "Trout Fishing in America Shorty"), etc. Brautigan uses the theme of trout fishing as a point of departure for thinly veiled and often comical critiques of mainstream American society and culture. Several symbolic objects, such as a mayonnaise jar, a Ben Franklin statue, trout, etc. reappear throughout the book.


Brautigan's daughter, Ianthe Elizabeth Brautigan, describes her memories of her father in her book You Can't Catch Death (2000).

Also in a 1980 letter to Brautigan from W.P. Kinsella, Kinsella states that Brautigan is his greatest influence for writing and his favorite book is In Watermelon Sugar.

In March 1994, a teenager named Peter Eastman, Jr. from Carpinteria, California legally changed his name to "Trout Fishing in America," and now teaches English in Japan. At around the same time, National Public Radio reported on a young couple who had named their baby "Trout Fishing in America."

There is a folk rock duo called 'Trout Fishing in America'.[7], and another called Watermelon Sugar[8], which quotes the opening paragraph of that book on their home page. The Machines originally called themselves Machines of Loving Grace, from one of Brautigan's best-known poems.

Twin Rocks, Oregon, a song appearing on singer-songwriter Shawn Mullins' 1998 platinum record Soul's Core, seems to tell the story of a fictitious meeting with Brautigan on bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Another lyrical interpretation might be that the encounter was with Brautigan's ghost.

In the UK The Library of Unwritten Books is a project in which ideas for novels are collected and stored. The venture is inspired by Brautigan's novel 'The Abortion.'

The library for unpublished works envisioned by Brautigan in his novel The Abortion now exists as The Brautigan Library in Burlington, Vermont.[9]

There are two stores named "In Watermelon Sugar" after Brautigan's novella, one in Baltimore, Maryland and one in Traverse City, Michigan.



Poetry Collections

  • The Galilee Hitch-Hiker, 1958
  • Lay the Marble Tea, 1959
  • The Octopus Frontier, 1960
  • All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, 1963
  • Please Plant This Book, 1968
  • The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, 1968
  • Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt, 1970
  • Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork, (1971 ISBN 0671222635)
  • June 30th, June 30th, (1978 ISBN 044004295X)
  • The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings, with introduction by Keith Abbott (1999 ISBN 0395974690)

Short Story Collections


All links Retrieved July 7, 2008.

  1. John F. Barber, 2008-04-24 [1]. Brautigan Bibliography and Archive. accessdate 2008-05-03
  2. 2.0 2.1 Barber, Bibliography and Archive.
  3. Memoirs Brautigan Bibliography and Archive.
  4. Biography: 1970s. Brautigan Bibliography and Archive.
  5. Peter Manso, and Michael McClure, "Brautigan's Wake." Vanity Fair (May 1985): 62-68, 112-116.
  6. Recordings].Brautigan Bibliography and Archive. accessdate 2007-12-18
  7. Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet. The Official Trout Fishing In America Web Site. Retrieved July 9, 2008.
  8. Watermelon Sugar :: News :: Indie Folk Duo :: Hypatia Kingsley and Louise Thompson Bendall
  9. Kevin O'Kelly, "Unusual library may get new chapter." September 27, 2004.[2].The Boston Globe. accessdate 2007-03-19
  10. There is some disagreement as how to classify The Tokyo-Montana Express. John Barber at classifies it as a collection of stories. The Brautigan Pages classifies it as a novel.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

External links

All links retrieved December 8, 2022.


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