Noted writer P.F. (Fred) Kluge first set foot on Saipan in 1967. Then a fresh-faced 25-year-old U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, he landed on the island to edit a magazine called the Micronesian Reporter on Capital Hill.
“I traveled freely and interviewed people. I suppose you can say that I got hooked. And I swore, when I left, that I would always come back,” he said.
Forty-one years later, Kluge celebrates his 66th birthday today with another visit to the scene of his many works, this time to talk about “Writing on Saipan, writing about Saipan.”
“Once you get into a conversation with a place like this, you don't walk away. You find yourself writing an article or two, then a book or two but you always return to find out what is going on,” said Kluge.
This is not the first time, though, that his wanderlust brought him to Saipan. He's been to the Commonwealth several times, the last one in 2004 during the 60th anniversary of the Battles of Tinian and Saipan.
He said many things make him come back: The camaraderie, the scenery, and the weather are just a few. At the same time, when his wife was still working in the Philippines, he would always take the route going through Saipan.
“When I wasn't here I find myself thinking about the place so a part of me always stayed here,” said Kluge.
He said he could be sitting in his office in New York when he used to write for the Wall Street Journal and Life Magazine, and he would get a faraway look in his eyes, his mind drifting to what is going on in this speck of rocks in the middle of the Pacific.
“I am often writing about the place whenever I could,” said Kluge.
His first novel, The Day That I Die, was set on Saipan. He is now working on a new fiction story that is also set on Saipan.
One question that keeps bugging Kluge is what would become of Saipan in its relationship to the world and its desire for modern life and its connection to the U.S. In particular, he wonders: “What becomes of a small island in the 20th century when they are not isolated anymore? What becomes of the islands when they join the world? When they stop being islands, when they stop being insular? What do you keep? What do you lose? What do you buy? What does it cost? And what do you say when its not for sale?”
“A calm peaceful tropical island would bore me to death in a week. I like an island where things are happening, where there's turbulence, conflict, discussion-and Saipan has never lacked that,” he said.
Kluge is holding a lecture tomorrow, Jan. 25, at 6:30pm at the Visitors' Center Theater of the American Memorial Park. Admission is free.
There, he will talk about his experience as a writer dealing with Saipan, appropriately titled “Writing on Saipan, writing about Saipan.”
With a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Kluge is writer-in-residence at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he offers courses in modern literature and fiction writing. Read more about Dr. Kluge at http://pfkluge.com.