Author Photo © Cathy Haruf

After discovering Kent Haruf's national best-seller Plainsong, fans waited eagerly for more fiction about the people of Holt, Colorado. So when Haruf delivered this new novel called Eventide, he--along with his editor and designer at Knopf--wanted the cover to resonate with everyone who was enthralled by stories of the high plains. Their plans to produce the perfect cover led to a fast friendship between Haruf and photographer Peter Brown, one especially satisfying night in a Colorado bar, and an even more satisfying result. Read on for details from the author, designer and photographer.



    Author interview





Kent Haruf: I met the photographer Peter Brown at Brazos Bookstore in Houston one night in the fall of 1999 when I was on book tour for Plainsong with my editor Gary Fisketjon. After the reading that night, Peter gave me a copy of his book On the Plains and it's such a beautiful book, the best collection of photographs I know of that shows the part of the world I know best and care most about. No one has a better eye for the narrative picture, the telling detail, the beauty in the ordinary--and best of all, he gives us the great plains without condescension or sentimentality. It's a book you can look at over and over, and each time you see something you'd missed before, or see something you'd seen before and remembered with affection and now wanted to see again.

I had Peter's book of photographs in mind when Gary and I began talking about the jacket for Eventide this past fall. I wanted a photograph of a little town on the high plains in northeastern Colorado, showing the town from a slight rise, at a short distance, just at twilight when the street lights have come on--a picture showing this little town at dusk, the lights shimmering, and still the great expanse of flat land visible around it and the wide high vault of infinite sky darkening above it.

Carol Carson (Knopf Art Director): Early on we created this "prototype jacket". I had found out about a photographer, Peter Brown, who lived in Texas, and had produced a photography book about the plains. I got a copy and scanned this image because I felt it went with Kent's book the most.

Turned out that Kent had a copy of Peter's book and loved the images. So then those two, author and photographer, got in touch and worked in tandem to get a series of shots at sundown outside a town called Yuma, Colorado.

KH: I met Peter out there after he'd been working for a day. He'd already found his way around, met some interesting folks, heard some stories, and had already begun photographing. He and I were together the next two evenings. I stood around while he took pictures every five minutes with his great old heavy wood-encased German camera, making the adjustments he needed, poking his head under the black cloth, pointing out certain details about the sky and the light. It was a great time for me, watching a professional work, talking and getting acquainted, while he went about his craft, making skillful pictures.

One of the additional bonuses for me was that Peter turned out to be a hell of a nice guy. I was able to introduce him to some of my friends there in that part of Colorado, and they were as much taken by him as I was. There was one especially satisfying night in a bar on the highway in Yuma. Some of the ranchers and farmers in the bar got to looking at his book of photographs and they liked it so well they wanted to buy copies for themselves. I think Peter was pleased by that--to have men who had known that high plains country all their lives, who had lived on it and worked on it for years in all its changes and all its various weathers--to have them approve of what he showed about it, without being fancy or cute--it was like the approval of the ultimate experts. I don't believe for an artist there's any higher praise.

Peter Brown: At the bar that night, Kent pulled out a copy of my book after a guy (who was clearly smashed) went up to a veterinarian thanking him for his letter of condolence in regard to a bull dog that had died. Kent hauled out the book because two of the photographs were taken in Yuma County, and unbeknownst to me they were of a spot no more than a mile from this guy's home.

A tug of war for the book ensued with the dead bulldog's owner winning. He took the book back to the bar and within fifteen minutes a series of ranchers came up to me pounding me on the back and shaking my hand and telling me what a hell of a job I had done. These were the best reviews I've ever had. And then some of them actually shelled out twenty bucks a piece for the book! So I've sent them copies of On the Plains, and have also sent a copy to the bar in Yuma to begin a library. And that's just one story out of many that took place over the course of those four days. Just a great time...

KH: It turned out, once the negatives were developed, that the twilight picture I had hoped for was not nearly as good as a picture that was two-thirds plum sky, with a band of orange under it, then the distant outline of the little town, then in the foreground a dark fallow field, and below that a band of rust-colored native grass. I think it makes an awfully fine photograph for a book jacket. And if the book that goes with it is anywhere nearly as good as the photograph, then I'll be pleased.

PB: [The cover is] gorgeous! Dark and moody and beautiful and true to life. I like the font and the yellow and the varied, broken underlines. Really really nice. I'm very pleased.

I got a call from Kent this morning after he got the email of the cover and he was ecstatic--and I just called him a few minutes ago after I got my copy, and he still is. I am so thankful to him and Knopf for getting me into this. The whole experience has been great.