Sep 082010
Authors: Keeley Blakley

John Clark Pratt dedicated more than three decades publishing “American Affairs,” his second novel.

In 1974, Pratt, who works as an emeritus professor at Colorado State University, was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to teach American literature at the University of Lisbon in Portugal.

He arrived shortly after a political revolution in the country and events he missed, combined with the aftershock of the turbulent period, inspired his novel.

In the book, an American professor goes to Portugal after divorcing his wife. The professor falls in love with a Portuguese woman and gets involved with revolutionaries in the country eventually being forced to return to the U.S.

While the novel is fiction, many of the events are historically accurate, Pratt said.

During the ‘70s, revolutionaries were trying to overthrow a dictator in Portugal. At the same time, the U.S. was pushing for democracy in the country, while the Soviet Union was trying to make it a communist state.

These events are the basis for Pratt’s novel.

For more than 30 years, Pratt dealt with agents and a number of publishing companies trying to have his novel published. Many people liked the book and showed interest in publishing it, Pratt said.

One editor told Pratt that if he changed the location of the book to Mexico, she would publish it. Another thought the book was excellent but too intelligent for the American reader.

Ghost Road Press, a small publisher in Denver, published “American Affairs” in April.

Pratt dedicated the book to his late wife, Doreen Pratt. She died shortly after he retired from CSU in 2001. Pratt has tried to keep himself busy giving talks and visiting campus on occasion.
The professor-turned-author will talk about his difficulties publishing and the work that goes into writing a novel from 7 to 9 p.m.brary in south Fort Collins.

Pratt first came to CSU as chair of the English department in 1975. And after fulfilling his five-year -minimum commitment as chair, he decided to teach.

While Pratt taught many classes in the English department, he said his favorite class to teach was literature of the Vietnam War, which at the time hit home for most of his audience.

Students had parents that fought in the Vietnam War, but had never heard about what the war was actually like, Pratt said.

Just before Thanksgiving break, Pratt would teach the students about the acronyms and terminology used during the war. This way, students could go home over break and ask their parents about Vietnam.

“These things have an impact on people other than myself,” said Pratt. “That’s the important thing.”

Pratt recalls a story where one student asked her father about his service during the Vietnam War. She said he spoke for 36 hours straight about his experiences, Pratt said.

The Vietnam War had a huge impact on Pratt’s life, and he shared that with his students.

From 1969 to 1970, Pratt served in Vietnam working on Project Contemporary Historical Examination of Combat Operations. He spent his days produced top-secret documents mainly on the history of Southeastern Asia –– all while clocking 100 combat hours.

One of Pratt’s most memorable experiences from the war was a day when he was flying over Laos with a young pilot. Weather was bad and the pilot got lost,but was eventually able to find his way back to the correct route. The day after, Pratt learned he was being tracked on radar during the flight.

Afterward, Pratt began working on his book, “The Laotian Fragments,” which was about the Vietnam War.

This novel caused the U.S. government to change their policy in Laos. After the book was approved by the Pentagon, the government was forced to admit that the U.S. had sent troops to engage in war with Laos, even though the U.S. was not officially at war, Pratt said.

In college, Pratt was in an engineering major, but changed to English after a girl said she liked his poetry, Pratt said. Pratt started college at Dartmouth College, but transferred to University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in English.

During his 20-year span in the U.S. Air Force, he was a pilot instructor and an English professor.

Pratt went on to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University and a doctorate from Princeton University.

Pratt said there were two things he thought he would never do: one was go to graduate school and the other, teach.

The retired professor has written or edited 18 books and many short essays, short fiction and poems.

“When you’re retired, you’re busier than ever,” Pratt said.

_Staff writer Keeley Blakley can be reached at _

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