Bill Barich Explores His Literary Journey After Colgate

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Returning from the class of ’65, Bill Barich spoke on his literary triumphs and how he found success in writing as a career.

Andrew Kish, Maroon-News Staff

Colgate alumnus Bill Barich ’65 returned to his alma mater on Thursday, November 9 as the seventh author of the annual Living Writers series. He joined students and faculty in Love Auditorium to discuss his 1980 horse-racing classic, “Laughing in the Hills,” as well as to answer questions concerning his craft as an established writer.

Considering that “Laughing in the Hills” is not just an ode to the sport but also a philosophical contemplation, Barich uses the racetrack as a self-contained microcosm to make sense of the disorder a found in everyday life. Readers follow Barich as he grapples with the death of his mother, a struggling marriage and unfulfilled dreams of being a writer as much as they learn about gambling technique, horse care and the eclectic mix of patrons and jockeys at Golden Gate Fields. Barich weaves these threads with his personal experiences at Colgate and his experience studying in Florence, Italy, where he developed an affinity for the Renaissance that he finds applicable to aura of the racetrack.

The New Yorker first published “Laughing in the Hills” as a serialization. When recounting the book’s journey to the audience, Barich wasn’t hesitant to share his struggles up until the life-changing phone call he received from William Shawn, the editor at the time. His two attempts at novels were rejected by every publishing company. Though they praised his style, they critiqued his shoddy attempts at plot. It wasn’t until he decided to try his hand at nonfiction, coupled with his whim to bet on a horse race, that he struck literary luck.

“Like most first books, I had no idea what I was doing when I wrote it. And I thought for students who are thinking about writing or beginning to learn about writing, it might be instructive to see what I did well and what I did not so well and how a book comes together,” Barich said.

This idea shaped most of the talk which revolved around Barich’s experiences in the publishing world as well as his later work in script editing. He emphasized endurance for aspiring writers, telling them they have to believe in their work until someone else does, even if it means living in a trailer with almost no money.

Barich continued to reveal insights about his career, discussing the period following his initial book’s success. He published another book about fishing with the aid of Shawn and has had success in writing several novels and other pieces of nonfiction. Barich was hired to write and screen edit “Luck,” a 2011 HBO series about horse-racing. Barich traces his success back to “Laughing in the Hills” and the little bit of magic, akin to that present in a horse race, it took to launch him into the public eye.

After his talk, Barich answered questions from the audience ranging from topics about the influence of his nonfiction to the editing process and experience with The New Yorker. He signed books afterwards, leaving dedicated horse-racing and literature fans alike with their own piece of history.

Contact Andrew Kish at [email protected]