First off, how are your classes going? What are you taking this semester?
I'm thrilled with my classes this semester. I have sort of a magical combination of American Literature Post-1945, Dynamics of American Politics, Freedom of Speech-which is tough but very interesting-and Evaluation of Evidence.
What's been the hardest part of returning to school?
Well, the operative word there is returning. I think at age 33, versus 23 or 18, it takes me longer to understand a paragraph, especially about something I'm unfamiliar with. I think when I was 18 I would have picked it up on the first go-around, and now it takes me three times reading the same paragraph however interesting it is. Plus, my study skills are a little rusty. The classes, however, are much more interesting to me today than they would have been when I was 18. Every class is like going to see a guest speaker. This University is top-notch, and we're fortunate enough to have these kinds of minds at our disposal.
The hardest thing about being a returning student, however, is time management, the battle of time. T-I-M-E. To manage it in this fast-paced environment is the biggest challenge for me.
What prompted your return to school and to come to Columbia at this point in your life?
After my husband died, I was left with the responsibility of overseeing Owl Farm, and I'd like to turn Owl Farm into a mini-campus-a place for seminars and for students to learn about anything gonzo, and that's American politics, literature, history: things that Hunter loved, and that I loved, too. I want to one day make Owl Farm available to students who want to learn about these things, and I thought I needed more of an academic background to achieve that.
So Owl Farm is actually a farm?
Owl Farm is actually a farm, but it's not a working farm-we don't have chickens and goats. We have peacocks and cats and dogs. Owl Farm is more of a center for discussion in Woody Creek. It was Hunter's working quarters for 30 years.
Have your Owl Farm blog readers been supportive of your journey?
Absolutely. Since Hunter's death, I was fortunate enough to have the support of my community in Woody Creek, and the community of gonzo readers embraced me wholeheartedly and support my being here. Many of them offered me advice about New York and offered me places to stay. Hunter had a great following, and smart, and they've just been very kind to me.
What made you choose Columbia?
One thing I love about Columbia is the School of General Studies. They take nontraditional students seriously, and that's rare at this quality a school. They understand the value of nontraditional students in society, which I think is a blessing. And, also, Hunter came to Columbia. He always spoke very highly of Columbia.
Did he have any particularly interesting stories to tell about his time at Columbia?
Well, one of the stories that he wrote while he was taking a writing class at Columbia is a lewd and violent and hysterical story called "Fire in the Nuts," which is actually published in the new issue of the Woody Creeker, a little magazine that I started in his honor.
There was a lot of debauchery along with what Hunter would call "truth-seeking" while he was at Columbia. He has famously written about New York in violent terms, about the craziness here. I think Hunter's mind was so active, almost to the point of obsession, that he was constantly seeking information, constantly seeking places where he could quiet down, and that was the Rocky Mountains. He was constantly seeking input, seeking knowledge, and a place like this was like sensory overload.
One of the professors here told him he should never write, he should never be a writer. And after that he decided, "Well, now I'm really gonna try." It could have been one of the genius professors at Columbia who said that, knowing it would motivate him.
But Hunter did value a classic education. In his early years, he was cutting school to drink and smoke, but he was drinking and smoking while reading Plato and Hemingway.
By his being in the public eye, much of Hunter's life experiences have become ingrained in popular culture. But much of his fame came before you met him. What was it like experiencing the life experiences of someone you're so close to through the filter of celebrity and of the past?
When I met Hunter, I knew very little about him. I had only read a piece he wrote in Rolling Stone about Bill Clinton. I had not read Hell's Angels or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, for example. Yes, I was ignorant. To me, he was just my friend Hunter the writer. Then when I started working for him, I of course fell deeply in love with him and his work. So, I knew Hunter the person before I knew Hunter, a.k.a. Raoul Duke, that many people associate him with.
Colorado and New York City are obviously such different places to live-what's the greatest thing each one has that the other doesn't?
Well, I'm a mountain person, I live in the mountains in Woody Creek, and I do miss the tranquility and the peaceful, quiet environment of the mountains, along with a community of 300 people where I know everyone and everyone knows me. Although I view New York as a fountainhead of intellect and fine art, style and creativity, sometimes the sensory overload can be irritating.
What I love about New York is the energy. Massive amounts of energy-human energy, intellectual energy, and the opportunities just to see people on the subway and here at Columbia, where they all have goals and ambitions and want to make the world a better place. It's very exciting.
Have you gotten a chance to visit any famous New York landmarks yet?
I did spend some time here periodically with Hunter; we would come for his book tours. What I'm going to do this week, which I'm really excited about, is visit the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, which has these amazing Jackson Pollacks that I've seen in books and studied as a child, so I'm looking forward to that this week, that's huge.