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C.J. Hribal '79
C.J. Hribal ’79

May 2007

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Alumni author connects with current students

English students not only got to meet one of the authors they were studying when he came to campus last month—they were able to swap St. Norbert stories with him, too.

C.J. Hribal ’79 was on campus to read from his works and present this year’s literary awards. Earlier, he met with honors students for a question and answer session and dined with the editors of the student literary magazine and members of the English honor society.

After the awards ceremony, Hribal stayed to socialize, answer questions and share St. Norbert memories, said Andrew Caldie ’07.

For Caldie, this was the first time he’d had the chance to meet someone whose work he had already read. “He was really kind of witty and engaging and fun to talk to. It’s interesting to meet the real person and find out what motivates them and what kind of experience they’ve had.

“Some of us probably took away some good advice in terms of our own writing. Make some time in your schedule for writing every day, or it won’t happen. That’s what C.J. does.

“I learned a lot from the honors discussion I went to. People were asking all sorts of good questions about where he came up with his ideas.”

A Midwestern writer

Hribal grew up in Hortonville, Wis., and writes out of his upper Midwest experience. Even though his locations are fictional, Caldie, who comes from Green Bay, found he recognized landmarks as he read.

“Obviously, he gets a lot of his material from real life events but, around that, he does make stuff up and takes liberties, adds details to make them tell a story—well, I guess that’s what fiction is.

“C.J. shared with us perceptions of the Midwest he had encountered in different cities. We in the Midwest know a lot more about cities like New York and L.A. than people in those areas know about us.”

The St. Norbert years

Hribal, who now teaches at Marquette University, wrote his first novel as an independent study under Stan Matyshak (English, Emeritus).

At the literary awards, he told his audience, “I felt incredibly nurtured while I was here.” He paid tribute to Matyshak and his other professors, who included Robert Boyer, Ken Zahorski ’69, Tom Davidson, John Bennett and Richard Londo, as well as his adviser, Dan Giovannini.

He was inspired by a story of Matyshak’s that, as a sophomore, he heard the professor read to his class. “That showed me, this is what you could do if you were really good.”

Hribal’s fiction

Hribal has published four works of fiction:

  • Matty’s Heart (1987)
  • American Beauty (1987)
  • The Clouds in Memphis (2000)
  • The Company Car (2005)

He received the Associated Writing Program Award for Short Fiction for “The Clouds in Memphis,” and his work has garnered praise from critics and fellow writers alike.

Anne Tyler said of “Matty’s Heart,” “The harsh realities of the rural Midwest and the modern world combine in these tough, deeply textured short stories. Several are real masterpieces.”

Interested in reading more? An interview with Hribal was featured in the spring 2005 issue of the St. Norbert College Magazine.

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