I'll start these autobiographical remarks the forbidden, scorned way and say: I was born . . . and then, to atone in part for that banality, I'll go on and say . . . on Black Thursday, the day of the stock market crash, October 24, 1929. So I grew up in the Great Depression, experienced World War II as a perfectly safe teen-ager, and, much later, survived--or have, so far--the Covid plague. For two or more years of my pre-school days I lived happily in a canvas tent and then in a one-room cabin built by my father with rocks he gathered from a riverbed and with mortar made with lime he produced by firing more of those rocks. Much later, I lived for my first two years of college with my big brother in the attic of a Jewish mortuary in Denver, which we got rent-free for staying nights to answer the phone.
We moved around a lot when I was growing up. My dad was restless and dissatisfied; I went to five high schools. Later, dissatisfied like him, I worked for nine newspapers and five universities. What really kept me changing jobs was a craving for the time and circumstances that would allow me to write poetry and fiction. I finally started doing that just before I retired, at the end of the 1990s. Now, as my ideas for poems come along less and less often, my writing career is mainly a thing to look back on. I do so with reasonable satisfaction.
It seems to me that most writers who win big prizes, who get on the best-seller lists, who have their books made into movies, have something in common: unhappy childhoods, with one or both parents unloving, brutal, or drunk. I had sober, loving, indulgent, and yet firm and sensible parents, and though I underwent bullying in my early schooldays, it wasn't enough to whine about through all my adulthood. No wonder my name is not on every lip, my latest book on every shelf. At least, though, my books are on the shelves of my children and grandchildren, together with those of some loyal friends. I am a long way from bitter. I wanted to write; I wrote.
Donald is the author of "Wolfe and Being Ninety: Old West Monsters and A Texas Poet's Life", Beowulf: For Fireside and Schoolroom, along with "The Nectar Dancer."