Much of the information regarding Richard Brautigan’s life and death is uncertain. He was born on January 30, 1935, in Tacoma, Washington. His father left home before he was born, and his childhood was apparently a troubled one marked by poverty. He did not attend college. At some point in the mid-1950s, he left home for San Francisco, where he became involved in the Beat scene. Although Brautigan, whose work largely defies classification, is not properly considered a Beat writer, he shared the Beats’ aversion to middle-class values, commercialism, and conformity.
Brautigan’s success as a poet was marginal. He published several slim volumes, all with small presses, but none of these received much recognition. It was not until the publication of Trout Fishing in America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1967), which many consider his best novel, that Brautigan caught the public’s attention and was transformed into a cult hero. He received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1969. By 1970, Trout Fishing in America had become the namesake of a commune, a free school, and an underground newspaper.
Brautigan’s poetry collections include June 30th, June 30th (Delacorte, 1978); Loading Mercy with a Pitchfork (Simon and Schuster, 1976); Rommel Drives on Deep Into Egypt (Dell Publishing Company, 1970); and Please Plant This Book (1968), eight self-published poems printed on separate seed packet envelopes. His novels include The Tokyo-Montana Express (Delacorte Press, 1980); Willard and his Bowling Trophies: A Perverse Mystery (Simon and Schuster, 1975); In Watermelon Sugar (Four Seasons Foundation, 1968); and A Confederate General from Big Sur (Grove Press, 1964). Brautigan’s last novel was recently discovered and published posthumously, under the title An Unfortunate Woman (Rebel Inc., 2000).
In 1972, Brautigan withdrew from the public eye and went to live on in a small home in Bolinas, California. In the eight years that followed, he only rarely accepted invitations to lecture and consistently declined to be interviewed. In 1976, he made his first trip to Japan, where he lived off-and-on until his death. In 1982, Brautigan taught at Montana State University in Bozeman. He then withdrew again. In October of 1984, his body was discovered at his home; he had shot himself in the head some four or five weeks earlier.