President To Author: Your Book Is Unpatriotic
by Kevin Canfield, Hartford Courant, 30 October 2002
As far as the nation knows, President Bush does not keep a Richard Nixon-style "enemies list." If he did, though, Gabe Hudson might well be on it.
Hudson's new collection of short stories, "Dear Mr. President" (Knopf, $19), has made him a favorite of book critics, fellow writers and lots of readers. But the book, it seems, has had the opposite effect on the commander in chief.
If Hudson is telling the truth -- and there's no reason to think he isn't -- Bush recently sent the young author a two-paragraph note, complete with his own review of "Dear Mr. President."
"I was in shock. Very surprised," Hudson said Tuesday. "I didn't think it was real at first. I mean, who would? But once you hold the thing and read it, there's no doubt in your mind. I mean, nobody could fake the authority of that letter."
Bush's missive, however, was not fan mail.
"The letter began by thanking me for sending the book," Hudson said. "Also, I'm from Austin, Texas, and the president touched on the fact that I was a fellow Texan, congratulating me on my book. But he was setting me up for the one-two punch. Because he called the book unpatriotic and ridiculous and just plain bad writing. Beyond that, I've been instructed not to talk about the contents of the letter for the time being."
That's not all. Hudson says FBI agents have been hanging around at his recent book readings, and the book's website (Gabehudson.com) is apparently being monitored by the government.
"We have a [website] tracker," he said. "It tells us the percentage of hits coming from different places, from around the world. From universities. From the military. From different media sources. And from the government. The government's percentage is surprisingly high."
Hudson's book is a funny and insightful look at modern American life through the prism of war and the experiences of fictional military service veterans. The author was in the Marine Reserves in the early '90s. While he did not fight in the Gulf War, his relationships with those who did supplied him with the fodder for "Dear Mr. President."
Asked whether the president might have other things to do than write letters to authors, Hudson said, "Like jogging? Or starting wars? I don't get the sense that the president has read enough books, or that he ever will. But you're right. I mean, our country, the economy, is in complete disarray."
The letter, Hudson said, will be published in a national publication at some point. "There's something of a bidding war in the works, but I think we're really close to making a decision. I've been instructed not to talk about it. But I will say we want to handle this with as much grace and dignity as possible. Eventually, I'd like to see the letter end up in a museum or something."
A White House spokesman could not be reached for comment.Meanwhile, Hudson has turned the whole episode on its ear. He has started a contest -- prizes include books, copies of Bush's note and a gas mask -- in which readers are invited to write their own letters to the president through his website (gabehudson.com/letter.html? Submit=Write+a+letter+to+the+ President). About 800 people had written letters as of Tuesday.
Said Hudson, "I think most Americans feel as if they aren't being heard, that they are being silenced, and there's a sense of disconnect with the people in power."
Copyright © 2002 Hartford Courant
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.