Down the dusty main street of Livingston, Mont. (pop. 6,783) one high noon not so long ago—or so the story is told—marched grimly the man whose byline appears on page 40 of this issue of SI. He was holding a gun squarely in the back of another of our occasional contributors: Jim Harrison, poet, author and thoroughly convincing Western bandit. Spotting a tourist, our first author thrust the gun into his hand with the harsh command: "Keep this man covered while I get the sheriff," and disappeared around the corner. At which point our second author took off in the opposite direction, leaving the poor dude with an unloaded gun, a reeling mind and no sheriff anywhere in sight.
The fact that two SI contributors were involved in any such moment of madcap has no editorial significance beyond the fact that the first of them is a man of unquenchable spirit. At 31, handsome Tom McGuane smiles frequently, as if he finds much amusement in the world he sees. And well he may. Sportsman, writer and man to be envied, McGuane spends half his year enjoying himself on a modest spread in Montana whose minimum upkeep allows him ample time to fish for trout, shoot at Hungarian partridge and explore the joys of the outdoors in the company of such artistic friends as Harrison. Comes the cold weather, he moves to Florida to pursue bone-fish, tarpon and permit from a house that is no more than a long cast from some of Hemingway's favorite haunts. (Indeed, Hemingway himself is one of McGuane's favorite haunts.)
Those who know—professional guides—rate McGuane as an excellent fisherman. But what excites us is that he writes as well as he fishes. "I always wanted to be a writer," he says. "And from Beebe, Hemingway, Turgenev and Thoreau I discovered that adventure and joblessness might be byproducts of such a career."
The joblessness part was easy. After attending Michigan State, where he edited the literary magazine, and Yale, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in playwriting and dramatic literature, McGuane spent happy hours writing, hunting and fishing in Ireland, Spain and Italy. The income that he derived was negligible. In 1966 he won a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford, which sustained him briefly, but soon he was broke again in Bolinas, Calif.
January 4, 1971
It was there that he wrote a novel called The Sporting Club, a sort of hunting-camp orgy with belly laughs that met with almost instant critical acclaim and has been made into a movie, which will soon be released. McGuane's next book—The Bushwacked Piano—is coming out in March and also has been bought by the movies. Meanwhile, McGuane continues to commute between Montana and Key West, occasionally offering us insightful pieces such as the one in this issue. He is also having a bonefish skiff built to his own specifications—McGuane's sole bow to sudden solvency.
"A life of writing, travel and sport is essentially a daydream I entertained before I was 10," says McGuane. "I have not had to give it up."
All we can do is urge him to keep on dreaming.