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INTERVIEW Paul Haeder
Interview with Michael Strelow, October 2015, on the Willamette, querying him about the intricacies of writing his book Henry: A Novel of Beer and Love in the West on a real historical character, Henry Weinhard, and the role he played as literary puppeteer and historian Paul K. Haeder: Discuss how you decided how the blending of historical fact and the inner life of Henry Weinhard would be played out writing the book. Michael Strelow: As I read about Henry Weinhard in E. Kimbark MacColl’s book, The Shaping of a City: Business and Politics in Portland, Oregon 1885 to 1915, (doing research for an article), I came across repeated references to HW—entrepreneur, young man in a hurry, German immigrant, fabricator of his own success narrative, bawdy house owner, economic strategist, etc.—and I began to imaginatively fill in what I thought he was like, how he might have operated (given the historical parameters), and then I completely fell for the whole Romantic/ practical/idealistic/cunning/energetic shebang that was his life and brewing history. Beer, love, the romance of the immigrant in the West—I was swept up by the power of the competing stories—good guy model citizen versus bad guy schemer and scammer. You know you’re approaching something true when the irony and inherent complexity and conflict between aspects of that true thing are all yammering for attention. So I asked, what’s the story of his story?
lay with the complicated Henry Weinhard, the man who said “Yes” to the whole amazing rupture of Old World rules, customs, traditions and habits that informed his youth, as he embraced the liberties and even licentiousness afforded a humble brew-master like him while the West’s rules were being made up each day. In the growing city of Portland, if it wasn’t forbidden (incipient and changing laws), it was allowed. Outside the city, everything was negotiable and provisional and subject to invention and variation on themes of civility and moral conduct. Thomas Carlyle wrote of the “everlasting yea” that ruled the new Romantic sensibility that rejected 18th century social compacts in favor of the individual’s authentic testing of experience each day. Saying this “yes” to life was fully testable in the New World, while in the Old World it was considered a direct challenge to the divine right of kings and the given order. Writing my version of Henry’s life was dipping into my own fantasy life, my own anarchic young man who would
PKH: All writing is about discovery -- what the author discovers about himself-herself, what is discovered in the telling, what is discovered in the subject matter explored and what the reader discovers. So, the first two -- talk about what you discovered about yourself writing this and what you discovered about the subject matter. MS: Ah, sympathy with the devil! I found my sympathies Michael Strelow
Photo: Paul Haeder