Christopher Boucher was born and raised in western Massachusetts, and he received his MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University in 2002. He currently lives in the Boston area and teaches writing and literature at Boston College. How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is his first novel.
Longer first-person bio, with cars and banjos:
When I was a kid, my father drove a white Volkswagen bus which he took the back seats out of and used like a pickup truck – I remember standing up in the back next to a pile of twigs and brush while he drove us to the town dump. This was in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, where I was born and raised. My father’s good friend also had a VW bus, incidentally, and one summer evening that bus caught fire in our driveway. The car was engulfed, and we had to call the fire department to extinguish it.
My car in high school was a 1980 Ford F-150 sidestep pickup truck, which started without a key and had a piece of wood as a bumper. At the time, I was very involved in theater – I planned on becoming a set designer, and apprenticed at (the now-defunct) StageWest in Springfield and the Mount Holyoke College Summer Theater before enrolling in the B.F.A. Program in Set Design at Carnegie Mellon University.
During my first semester at CMU, though, I was assigned to read plays by Samuel Beckett, Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Caryl Churchill and David Mamet. I’d never encountered stories like these before, and they compelled me to try writing my own. I took a playwriting course at CMU, and at the end of my freshman year I transferred to Brandeis University. During my three years there I was fortunate to work with Jayne Anne Phillips, Olga Broumas, Geoffrey Wolff and Stephen McCauley. My car in Waltham was a 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit with a cloth ceiling which had become unglued, and hung dangerously low until I stapled it back to the roof of the car.
I graduated from Brandeis in 1997 and moved to Northampton, Mass., where I worked as an intern on the arts desk at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. My brother inherited the Rabbit and I drove a Volkswagen Fox. I started working as a part-time correspondent for the Gazette, and then as the newspaper’s Arts Writer, and I bought a 1971 Volkswagen Super Beetle. I drove that car until a month before I moved to Syracuse, when I bought a salvaged and rebuilt Chevy S-10 pickup truck.
I spent three amazing years in the M.F.A. Program at Syracuse University, where I was lucky enough to work with such writers as George Saunders, Mary Caponegro, Arthur Flowers, Junot Diaz and Michael Burkard. I began writing How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive in my third year at SU, and submitted a very early draft as my third-year thesis.
When I received my degree from Syracuse in 2002, I moved back to the Boston area to begin teaching at a local college. I traded pickup trucks with my father, and then bought a salvaged 1999 New Beetle. It was after returning to Boston, too, that I became intrigued by the banjo and started taking lessons. I studied with the banjo player Chris Pandolfi (after seeing him perform one night at the Cantab in Central Square) for about two years, until he left Boston to start the Infamous Stringdusters.
And it was thanks to the banjo that I met my wonderful wife Lisa in 2007. We were both in bluegrass bands at the time, and we were scheduled to play at the same venue in Easthampton, Mass. We were married in the summer of 2010, and our limo to and from the church was a 1967 21-window Volkswagen bus.
Lisa and I now live in the Boston area, where I teach writing and literature at Boston College. My everyday car – a replacement for the very-troubled New Beetle – is a Toyota Echo. I still have the 1971 Super Beetle too, though it hasn’t run in years.
And there’s one more car to add to the list: I’ve just purchased a restored 1972 Volkswagen Beetle which will (hopefully!) carry us across the country later this summer. I haven’t seen this car personally yet, but I’m sure it’ll present us with more than its share of quirks, complications, and new stories.