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‘Semi-Reluctant’ Dubus Pens ‘Accidental’ Memoir

Successful Author Makes First Foray into Non-Fiction

Andre Dubus III’s memoir “Townie” has garnered interest from a variety of publications. He is shown here recording an introduction for an upcoming piece in Vanity Fair.

By Sheila Eppolito

For 20 years, Andre Dubus III tried to work his hardscrabble Haverhill upbringing into a fictional account. He tried to capture the people and time through characters, only to hit the wall. The project languished. Then, one day at the construction site of the home he was building with his brother, Jeb, some laborers were talking baseball.

“I realized that Jeb and I didn’t know anything about baseball. Or football. And it got me thinking. How did two teenage boys grow up outside of Boston and know nothing of sports?” says Dubus.  "I decided to write an essay about it.”

The essay quickly morphed into the bigger story of Dubus’ life ߝ the pain of his parents’ breakup, the slide to deep financial straits ߝ all against the backdrop of his life on the wrong side of Haverhill. When he first attempted a memoir, he kept it mostly to his experiences, excluding details about much of his family. It didn’t work. 

“I needed my family to tell my story ߝ I didn’t grow up alone. But it’s one thing to make myself naked to the public, and another to expose them,” he says. Dubus asked his three siblings  for permission to tell their stories, and they all assented.

“Jeb was especially generous in giving me free reign to talk about his life, telling me, 'Well, I wouldn’t want to step on anyone’s tube of paint,'” he says.

The result is Dubus’ first non-fiction work, which follows the publication of “House of Sand and Fog” (a National Book Award finalist that became a movie starring Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly) and the New York Times bestseller “The Garden of Last Days."

The memoir ߝ called “Townie” ߝ has garnered a good deal of positive press, including in the New York Times,  O Magazine, Boston Magazine and an upcoming story in Vanity Fair. In selections read on campus recently, Dubus’ life is shared candidly ߝ drug use, poverty, sex, gratuitous violence and self-searching are detailed, as is the writer’s complicated relationship with his father, a famous writer known best for his masterful short stories.

Eight Things You May Not Know About Andre Dubus III

  • He was once a bounty hunter in Mexico, charged with finding a contract killer. “My efforts were unsuccessful ߝ thank God,” he says.
  • He trained for Lowell’s Golden Gloves, where he nurtured a solid, rare, knock-out punch at the Lynn Boy’s Club under famous fighter Tony Pavone.
  • He pursued a Ph.D. in Marxist Social Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He quit four days later when he began writing.
  • He is Andre Dubus III ߝ his namesakes include his famous writer father, and his grandfather ߝ the first Andre ߝ who was a surveyor for Gulf State Utilities Co. in Southern Louisiana.  He and his wife, Fontaine, decided not to perpetuate the name with an Andre Dubus IV because, “Kids need their own name!”
  • His last name is pronounced “Deh-Byoose.” The decidedly un-French sounding name has Louisiana roots.
  • He occasionally wakes up bolt upright in a cold sweat, asking himself, “What have I done?” in pondering the memoir’s unbridled, honest look into his life.
  • He is a self-professed “gadget hater.” He frowns upon cell phone use, Facebook and computers, writing his prose by hand, with a pencil sharpened with a razor knife.
  • When asked if he has ever felt uncomfortable about one of his published works, he answers simply, “Always ߝ every single time.”

“Townie” is due out on Feb. 28. It is published by W.W. Norton.