By many measures, including his own, David Hopes is a successful poet and playwright. He’s certainly an influential one, at least to those who have studied with him over the years at UNC-Asheville.
But by other measures, including his own, Hopes hasn’t achieved the notoriety one might expect of someone with so many works published and produced.
“I get satisfied when the thing is done and then I leave it sit,” he said. “I had been happy just writing and missed all the things I should have done as a youth to get my name and face out there.”
Asheville’s Magnetic Theatre has been a dependable home for Hopes’ stageplays, including the theater's current show there, “Uranium 235,” running through Nov. 18. Magnetic is also producing “Night Music,” another Hopes play, in February 2018.
Talking with Hopes, you get the sense he’s too preoccupied with whatever he’s working on at the moment to get excited about another premiere. He’s on sabbatical this semester, but he certainly doesn’t need the break to write. Hopes has 15 finished books awaiting publication, somewhere.
“In some ways, my life is seamless. I write all the time, and I’m not even sure I write more when I’m not in school,” he said. “When things are bad, I tend to write less. But recently, things have been fine, so I’ve been writing up a storm.”
Hopes grew up in Akron, Ohio, with a father he remembers -- and his written about -- as repressive and demoralizing. In his poem “Certain Things,” written after his father’s death, Hopes wrote this: “Of course I hated him. All things, even hatred, wear away.”
But for the most part, Hopes avoids the autobiographical, instead focusing, of late, on historical fiction. His has a trilogy of plays about Abraham Lincoln. “Uranium 235” is another such play, exploring what could have gone through the mind of President Harry Truman as World War II wound to a close.
“The way I found into was looking at Truman as maybe embarrassed and feeling inadequate taking over after the greatness of Franklin Roosevelt,” Hopes said. “Evidently, he did not know about the Manhattan Project, so he has all this on his plate in the first five minutes of his presidency.”
Hopes does his share of acting, though never in his own plays, and he says actors often make fine writers for their training embodying varied personalities and voices. Some of his pronouncements about writing can be as funny as they are thought-provoking.
“A poetic play is disastrous. No one wants to hear it,” he said. “But a play that’s infused with the spirit of a poetry is a different thing altogether.”
Hopes said he is far better at telling his students what to do, or not, than showing them how to do it. In our conversation, he called himself a fraud.
“A student sitting across from me, I can say ‘Now, here’s how you write a play,’” he said. “There’s some guidelines, like ‘Don’t try to prove a point.’ That’s the worst way to start out. There’s things you can avoid, but those are all negative. How to actually do it, just start talkin’ with your pen.”
Rather than specifically setting out to write a poem or play or something else, Hopes said the rhythm of his writing guides him.
“Predestination is the great enemy of art, that if you write the poem or play you’ve intended to write, you’ve failed,” he said. “It’s a discovery. (Characters) talk at each other. The author is discovering and, later on, so is the audience.”