He lives in the USA and part of the year in Crete but he’s slowly becoming a Czech. After his massive summer tour through 40 Czech cities he knows the Czech Republic better than many natives. ,,If Trump becomes a president, I’ll move here” says Robert Fulghum, who still has many plans in life. He feels like 40 years old and apart from writing he wants to try also shoe making.
I know that you like the Czech Republic but after intense travelling throughout the whole country, aren’t you a bit fed up with us?
No way! You know, the kind of writing I give is about people and that’s why I wanted to travel through the whole Czech Republic, not only Prague, and I wanted to talk to them. Everyone has a story. Such kind of story you’ve heard from your dad or granddad millions of times. Everyone has it and I want to hear them. Meeting readers gives me as much as what I give. It’s fuel of my life and I’m very grateful that although my body is around already for 80 years, I’m still able to do it.
You turned 79 only recently and you already talk about yourself as about 80-years-old?
That’s funny. When you ask a 4-year-old, he says that he’s 4 and a half. So OK. I’m 79 and 2 months but I feel like 40.
You’ve visited the Czech Republic for the 10th time but this time you’ve been to places not even many Czech people have ever visited. What new have you learnt about us?
I didn’t know what a beautiful landscape here was. I’ve visited places which I wouldn’t as a tourist but in every single one I’ve found something interesting.
Are you taking home any interesting story from the tour?
From every single city I’ve got one. I was strongly moved by moments in which I’d a feeling as if I’d already met the people before. There was for example a man who asked me to sign a book for Lenka. That’s his mum who likes to read my books. Then he realized that I had no idea who Lenka was, we saw each other for the first time in our lives. Some kind of connection has been between us for years, though. That’s why I went for the tour, after all: not so that readers saw me, but I wanted to see them. Each reading I took a picture of them and when I write my next book, I’ll look at the photos and I’ll know who I’m writing for.
So you get on well with Czechs?
I’ve been to Austria, Poland or Hungary but I do not feel the same there. I can’t really tell why but I simply feel well here. You’re very friendly. I remember one of the very first press conferences in the Czech Republic. Journalists had read my story about tree climbing and they wanted to interview me sitting on branches. I was fascinated: they were willing to climb trees to talk to me! That was the moment when I learnt that Czechs and I would be good friends….
… and that’s also why Czechs have a privilege to have rights to your books? If American publishers want to publish one of your last books, they have to ask for permission a Czech publisher.
The Czech publishing house is like my family, we’re good friends. When you ask me how many friends I have in publishing houses in New York, I will say: none. Book publishing is a big business over there. Publishers probably do not even read books, it’s about money and I feel like a machine to produce books to make them profit. I miss a human side in it, which I find here in the Czech Republic. But don’t you think that it’s not about money at all. I’ve got a special contract with the Czech publisher that they’ve got rights to my books for 1 Czech crown. Now I want a new contract. I want 3 crowns (he laughs).
You visited the Czech Republic for the first time in 1989. How has it changed since?
You were walking in this way: he crouches a bit and makes blinkers from hands around his eyes. You were closed and afraid to say something, as if there was still a worry “Russians can come back at any time”. Since then you’ve opened to the world. When I asked during the tour how many people spoke English, almost everyone raised his hand. You’ve become citizens of the world. But you are still able to keep your culture and you remember history. You have rich history, which we are unfortunately lacking.
What is happening right now in the USA will without doubt go down in history. What do you think about presidential elections?
It’s like start of fascism. Trump has lots in common with Mussolini. People think that they need a dictator who would take charge and solve everything but that’s not how it works. Americans do not know how fragile democracy is in the way you do.
Debates about the elections turn mainly around Donald Trump and what a failure it would be if he won, but would Hillary Clinton be any bingo?
The best president would be Michelle Obama, a black woman (he laughs). There was a lot of slander about Hillary. Republicans made an evil woman out of here. But I believe she would be a good president. If Trump wins, I’ll move to the Czech Republic.
You know, we tend to think that elsewhere it’s always better than at home but believe me that here we have our issues too…
You’re right. It’s complicated everywhere and it always will. But despite all the tragedies happening in the world today, I don’t think it is worse than before. I’m not a pessimist or optimist but as a realist I think that there’s as much bad as good. We only hear about the bad more often. We read in the paper that ten people were shot somewhere, not that no one killed anybody today. And I truly hope that there are days like these too.
You learned all you need to know in kindergarten but what have taught you 80 years of life?
To be generous. I’ve never regretted when I gave something but I did when I didn’t. It’s not about money but about little things. With a band The Rock Bottom Remainders we raised money for charities but we also hoped that our music would make someone happy. I play the guitar and mandocello and hopefully I don’t do any harm to anybody by my playing. That’s what I actually try to do in my life. To live in a way so that I didn’t make any harm. There are days when I say to myself: ,,Well, you could have done better today, Robert.” But when I go to the bathroom in the evening and I can look into the mirror and do: he raises thumb up and winks, it was a good day.
Can fame change you when you become famous after 50 years of age?
I’ve never strived to be rich or famous, not even to become a writer. I’ve been writing for my whole life. It happened only by coincidence that my writing jumped from a drawer into the world after I was 50. At that age you already know your values and what is important and that’s why I do not think that fame would change me a lot. I’ve got the same friends, the same car for fifteen years simply because I like it. I should put a note on the window: steal it please so that I can finally buy a new one!
How did your family accept it?
It was difficult for my children. They didn’t understand why someone would be interested in what I think. I am their dad, they know how angry or even unfair I can be sometimes so maybe they think that it’s not fair and I understand it. But I think we’ve already managed that and we’ve a nice relationship now. I’ve got my role of Captain Kindergarten but I’m also a normal granddad and my grandchildren do not even consider me as a famous writer. For one granddaughter I’m a bank robber.
Well, taking into consideration what all you’ve done throughout your life, it wouldn’t be a big surprise…
She was about 7 years old and asked me what I do for living. I replied that I’m a bank robber and she run to her mum and cried: ,,Mommyyyy, grandad says that he robs banks!!” And for her I’ve been a bank robber since, no matter she is 18 years old now.
When I make a box for the interview about yourself, it will be a tough job. Writer, philosopher, painter, pastor, cowboy…Shall I write also a bank robber?
You can write that I’m a person who is not able to keep his job. When adults ask kids what they would like to do when they grow up, they expect one single answer: a lawyer, for example. They wouldn’t be very pleased if the kids said ,,I want to try many different things.” And many people do the whole life ,,what is expected that they are” and they can’t wait to retire to be able to do what they truly want. I’ve never wanted to be in this situation. I’m too curious and life offers too much to do only one thing.
What job brings you the best memories?
When I was 17 years old I wanted to be a cowboy. And I truly was. Here is the proof: he shows a bent finger. I’ve got many happy memories. And how many beautiful girlfriends I used to have at that time! You can be a cowboy only when you are 17 but not at 80 and that’s why I later had to try something different again.
In your books you write about “closed doors”. What doors would you still like to open in your life?
I want to learn to make shoes. Shoes for men in shops are incredibly boring, only black and brown. And I would also like to learn to make paper, so that one day I can make a book which would be my masterpiece in every single detail.
Is behind that closed door maybe also a new woman?
Now I’m single again. Alone, not lonely though. But I will keep the door open. You never know what life has in store for you and when you are 40, you still have lots of time.
Before you get busy again, what will you do when you are back home after this crazy Czech tour?
I will sleep. I can’t wait!
Don’t worry, Robert does not speak this horrible English, it is translated from Czech from an interview published on August 6, 2016 in a newspaper Lidove noviny
About my meet up with Robert you can read here.