Matt Cutugno is a thoughtful, well-traveled writer who brings a gentle and sensitive touch to issues of great emotional consequence. In his debut novel, The Winter Barbeque
, he deftly draws the reader into the final hours of his father’s life. Confronted with the challenge of looking back and looking ahead on the meaning of a parent’s existence, his insights will resonate with other members of his Baby Boomer Generation. THIRSTY was fortunate to catch-up with the author at his home in New York City while he was working on an article about the life and career of Anna May Wong, the first Asian American movie star.
THIRSTY: Over the years you have written eleven plays, each of which has been produced. What motivated you to write The Winter Barbeque as a book rather than as a play?
Matt Cutugno: I always imagined the story in book form. I stopped writing plays some years ago, I don’t relate to Theater as I once did. Plus this was about my Dad’s life, his reflections on it, and prose seemed a truer medium for what I was trying to do.
THIRSTY: You refer to The Winter Barbeque as a recollection of a World War II everyman. How does the story of your father and his life resonate with what Tom Brokaw has called “The Greatest Generation”?
Matt Cutugno: I’ve talked to people who have read The Winter Barbeque who tell me the old man in the book reminds them of their father, or uncle. My Dad was one of a kind, but he was also very much of his generation. So I think the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers both recognize and relate to the book’s themes.
THIRSTY: How did you settle on the idea of presenting this “recollection” of your father as told according to the hours of the last day of his life?
Matt Cutugno: I liked the structure, the naturalness of its timeline. The clock is ticking. I think it was lonely for my Dad near the end, the days dragged on. The cycle of life that is created in one day makes for a kind of simple story, which is what I wanted.
THIRSTY: Has the experience of writing this story helped you to cope with the loss of a person so clearly important to you?
Matt Cutugno: It has. I wrote most of the book last year while I was in China teaching. I don’t speak much Chinese, so my days there consisted of teaching and writing this book. I think it helped in the writing of this to have that geographic distance. It made me look at him and me and our family relationships in a more objective light. I consider The Winter Barbeque to be his book, and I feel good about that.
THIRSTY: Is your experience with your father’s aging and eventual passing away representative of how your generation, the Baby Boomers, are dealing with their parents’ final years?
Matt Cutugno: No doubt about that. I read that the oldest baby boomers just turned 65, so the generation before them, my Dad’s, is passing on. A lot of people in our country know all about this and have been dealing with it. But, you know, it’s also practical experience for our own aging.
THIRSTY: As you look back at your father’s life, his days in the military, and how the experience of participating in a war affected him, do you see similarities in the lives of those men and women who are fighting America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Matt Cutugno: I’d say it’s the same and different. War will always be a defining moment in the lives of those who live it. But my Dad and Uncles returned from war triumphant. They’d won a war big and America was the most powerful country the world had ever seen, and I think there was the feeling that it was good times ahead. We don’t have that now for our troops.
THIRSTY: And, of course, the obvious question, do you barbeque in the winter?
Matt Cutugno: As a matter of fact I do. I’ve been doing it for years, neighbors look at you funny, but I like it. When I first thought of The Winter Barbeque, it was going to be about my own aging and barbequing. Then my Dad passed and I thought of all the time I spent barbequing with him and my Uncle Ralph, after my Mom got very sick. We’d talk about their childhoods growing up in Port Reading, talk about the war, raising families, politics, we’d drink Anisette in coffee, and grill.
Matt Cutugno's profile at Stay Thirsty Publishing