EWU alum represents Eastern Washington in new novel, Whiskey


Bruce Holbert graduated from EWU in 1983. His recently published novel, “Whiskey,” highlights a connection to eastern Washington.

By Sam Jackson, Reporter

Bruce Holbert will spend the next few months traveling from bookstore to bookstore reading his recently published novel, “Whiskey,” that highlights a strong connection to eastern Washington.

Holbert graduated from EWU in 1983 with a degree in english and education. “Whiskey” is a three-part novel exploring the adventures of two roughneck brothers, Smoker and Andre, from Grand Coulee. Throughout the read, it’s easy to find many close connections to Holbert’s life experiences, including his interesting hometown and even an event with a bear.

Holbert grew up in Grand Coulee. It always struck him as a very interesting place with a variety of people. So, he found no better place to call home for Smoker and Andre.

“There’s a Native American reservation, there’s some hard-scrabble wheat farmers, then there’s construction people who came into work with the dam and there are a lot of people who just sort of pass through doing temporary work,” Holbert said. “So it’s a real mix of people who can create strange results, I guess.”

A popular story in the novel is about Smoker and Andre actually traveling to Spokane to find Smoker’s daughter. On their way over to the Maple Street Bridge, they encounter a bear and trap it in their camper for a while. The inspiration for this narrative came from Holbert’s memory of a bear encounter he followed on the radio as he was driving from his home to EWU back in 1982.

“I heard on the radio that the police were chasing this bear through downtown and the bear was in Riverfront Park,” said Holbert. “The whole rest of the drive in I was listening to it, I was really paying attention to it, how they were chasing the bear. There was a part of me that always wished I would’ve gone into town and found a way to watch, but that always stuck with me. I just found it compelling that you’ve got this wild animal walking around the city looking for a bite to eat and the police are trying to arrest it.”

Holbert describes being an undergraduate student at EWU as a very unique experience. The experience prepared him to be an author more than any other undergraduate experience he could imagine.

“I wasn’t very good at school, but I could write,” said Holbert. “And in the creative writing department, guys like John Keeble and other people in the program, Jim McAuley, they sort of allowed me to sneak into classes that were higher level and frankly for higher achieving students. They allowed me to get into those classes and have experience with really significant writers like themselves. It opened a whole new world for me and that doesn’t happen most places. They bent over backwards to give me every opportunity possible, so I think it was crucial to my development. When I left, I felt like a writer, which is something I never expected.”

The “Whiskey” tour will continue until June 7, reaching bookstores across the Pacific Northwest. Along this ride Holbert hopes to achieve literary success by being part of the group of people from the EWU creative writing program that are simply doing good work as authors.

“What I want from anything I write is I want it to be a complete thought,” said Holbert. “That people will read it and walk away thinking, ‘okay this circle is closed, he’s gone all the way with this.’

I guess that’s how I am hoping people will respond. So far people have, so I’ve been fortunate as far as that goes […]”