More than a hundred people packed the American Memorial Park Visitors Center Theater Friday night as they gathered for a lecture by a prominent author who has written several books and articles about Saipan.
“Writing on Saipan: Writing About Saipan” by PF (Fred) Kluge is part of Humanities Lecture Series by the NMI Council for the Humanities.
“I am not gonna… speak in any way in judgment of what’s going on in this place… What I am, however, and it’s what brings me here, is a writer,” began Kluge, who first came to Saipan in 1967 as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He was then 25.
Kluge narrated that he was reading a work of writer Lawrence Durrell and was motivated by his decision to request for Ethiopia for his volunteer work but was sent to Saipan instead. “I don’t think that my total time on the island aggregates… my years of Peace Corps service… I’m here because I have a long memory of the place, although the time is short but the exposure is over a long period of time.”
As a writer, Kluge has traveled to different places like Tasmania, Vienna, and Malacca to name a few. He draws a parallel between the experience of travel to that of being a kid. “You’re a kid. Your talk is baby talk to prove that you care as a newcomer… And you are exported to safe places and kept away from dangerous ones.”
In his lecture, Kluge differentiated the kinds of writing he has done about Saipan. “The first is non-fiction… It really happens as reported… You can’t make things up, you cannot create character, you cannot fabricate quote, you have to tell things pretty straightforwardly as they happened or you cheated… Fiction is a made-up story.”
He added that the argument for fiction was “writing to get at truth, inventing things that never happened. And people would believe this… the human conviction discovers its underlying truth and important patterns.”
Kluge reminisced about his stay on the island at that time. He recounted in detail and quoted from his published works how he saw Saipan and the rest of Micronesia at that time.
Even when he got back to the mainland and had a job there, he said that “my heart is some place else. At least part of me is left behind here wondering what on earth is going on.”
Kluge told his audience how he kept on waiting for an opportunity to come back to the islands. “…it’s a constant return to a place… you don’t just write one book, cross the topic off your list, say ‘been there, done that,’ (then) move on to the next thing… my intent in going back to Micronesia was… to see what had happened to him, what had happened to the place, a little bit about what had happened to me while I had been away.”
In 2004, Kluge came back for the commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Battle in Saipan. His written piece appeared in Antioch Review. “The description that I gave, the point was to explain to the vets what happened since they left, since the war, to connect the Saipan they remember to the Saipan they’re visiting now… to make the connection. And I tried to describe the Saipan that I had found when I arrived here in the ‘60s.”
Kluge rationalized why Saipan is important to him. “There’s a closer weave of life on islands that you confront the eternal questions on a smaller scale… that everybody sort of knows everybody… that it’s a proper place to come to terms to life… that human nature reveals itself to be discovered, discussed, dramatized on an island.”
Kluge, who holds a PhD from the University of Chicago, is currently teaching at Kenyon College in Ohio. Kluge worked for Wall Street Journal, Life magazine, and National Geographic Traveler and wrote articles for Playboy, Rolling Stone, and Smithsonian. At present, he is working on his 10th book, which also covers Saipan.