Robert Fulghum Interview (Prolific author, including “All I Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten”)

Robert Fulghum’s Web Site

Storytelling by Dr. Fulghum “Where Do the Mermaids Stand?”


Notes scratched out during a one hour telephonic interview:

Knows lawyer who reps theater groups and artists; goes to rehearsals, gets backstage

Everything in life has an opportunity for learning

Robt is insatiably curious; kid who drove parents teachers friends crazy w questions. That curiosity has given him a way of looking at world.

Not a poet but looks at world the way a poet does looks at world in way to see what is going on

Learned if you show interest in others and what is going on, ask questions; they will put down whatever they are doing and share their lives bc nobody asks

Everybody has a story and knows something you don’t know

Talks and writes about what he does as a way of connecting w ppl, something they have in common that might be right under their noses . He talked about brushing his teeth. Now there are 5 ppl in morning tooth brush league who all brush their teeth at the same time he does every day

Writing has richness of payoff

Typically, you go to school and are told what to learn and how to learn it, never being asked if you want to learn about the topic or if you care, just learn it and you’re stuck here.

As teacher, he asked students – he asked them what they wanted to know, and how they wanted to learn it – ipod, skate board, anything, didn’t have to be school related. Just what they wanted to know about. Nobody does that.

You are told how to write a research paper, do this, make outline, bullet point — Robert Never made an outline, writes fine papers; it’s a matter of assimilating information and presenting it cohesively

He learned from doing that, and brain research, that the ways we think and get around are different from one person in world to another bc every person is different

If someone thinks differently than he does, he Says “its amazing you think that and I think something totally different; tell me how you got there”

We all get some of the same Tools to make lots of choices ; build a tree house or flower bed w same tools, used differently

Fulghum’s Three great mentors/teachers
• professor Flynn who taught them how to think about anything; great one for insisting in students knowing things they were interested in; students taught one day a week, something they think others won’t know about; teacher wants to know something about you teacher won’t know any other way
• final exam was handed out first day of class
• last question on exam was “What do you want to know?” You answered it up front and had to show passionate interest in European History; he will kick you out if you don’t want to be in his class
• Fulghum grew up on ranch and was amateur cowboy wanna be; bull rider; when his turn to teach he gave lecture on rodeo w bull riding gear; 50 yrs later he was given award by Baylor as distinguished alum;
• teacher taught the students his passion for learning and his interest in him was in audience. After formalities were over teacher sought Fulghum out, had the packet of his notes which he had furiously written 50 years earlier and said he had a question he still wanted an answer to. Made Fulghum feel marvelous.

2nd great teacher
Fulghum left Southern Baptist and became Unitarian
Attended Unitarian Seminary; wanted to be beatnik, grew beard, smoked pipe
Needed job that didn’t conflict w day courses
Took job as bartender at night
Went to ___ of school, told him he had job as bartender
Leader said that’s wonderful – don’t think this is anti religious, Jesus was out in world, talking to people, being useful; you might try it
You will learn far more out there than just tucked away w your books


He was literally broke, not a dime, wife ill, had child
Went to same person, he said he would help Fulghum, give me budget
Dr. Bartlett said budget unacceptable
They cut budget second time, oatmeal twice a day, just tight as could be
Budget unacceptable
Kicked door open, yelled at him
Dr Bartlett said unacceptable budget bc there was No room in it for joy, and nothing to give away
Fulghum crying while telling story to me on ph, just barely
Reworked budget with funds for tickets to the symphony, and substantial contribution to salvation army
Did same thing to his own son after making him call Bartlett and say, ‘lesson u taught my dad, he is going to teach me’ and he did

Third person
Theologian from Harvard who came to Fulghum’s seminary
Thesis: Fulghum turned in one page, instead of 75, revision of all I learned in Kindergarten. Got the only A in class, but anticipated failing. Others turned in massive works. Theologian knew Fulghum had put LOTS of thought into his one page.

Talks to this man once a week still; he critiques Fulghum’s works for him and tells him he might make a writer some day, but thinks his best work ever was that one page thesis

***The opportunity to be mentor to other ppl, to really see them, to ask them things rather than tell them things; help them sort things out in their mind, help organize and get it out** That’s the best kind of mentors

Don’t just appreciate having those; be one of those. What I learned from you: because of you, I thought for myself. That’s what Fulghum wants said at his funeral.
His lifestyle is to ask; ask in a way that says I’m really interested in what you did and how you did that

He gets invited into worlds which he knows nothing about; dared speaker to turn off powerpoint and lights and e books and tell them what you want them to know in the dark. It worked fabulously.

Dark room, imagine albino giraffe in snowstorm at night; – went on for whole lecture using imagination ; was beautiful

If ask, earnestly, non critically, it’s amazing what you’ll hear
Writing info

Never started out to be a writer; everybody who’s graduated from high school says they not a writer, which is amazing bc did lots of writing

Has fundamental curiosity, doesn’t think of writing as something one sits down with tools and writes

It’s like building house, have dream of what want, think where to put it

At that point you don’t think about what color to paint walls, bc walls don’t exist

It’s going on 24 hrs, including when asleep

Everything is fodder for writing

Don’t start judging what writing about until way into process

It’s what he’s thinking about, how he sees world

3 day a week walking buddy , tells his friend what’s going on in his mind; talking it out has become process of focusing for writing

Poetry is way you can make your living worth while bc you look at the world around you and synthesize life

Poetry writers get w community of like minded ppl, have appreciative critics

Be a poet, not making living at it

The joy of doing it is essence of it

To be creative writer, put self in company of similar ppl

Internet is fascinating bc numbers of ppl are blogging and finding it satisfying

One of downsides of achieving a certain amt of fame, if allow easy access, they are overwhelmed w gifts and notes etc, no time left for self

I know something about you,

You went through speakers bureau and my assistant; you aren’t a quitter; I’m holding up mirror to you; you own that ; it’s yours
***You went the extra mile, and it paid off. Don’t miss that. Keep doing that.***

Don’t miss that; reward yourself.

When I asked for address to send note of thanks…or should I send it to your speaker’s bureau…?

Oh no, no. You’ve come this far. How can I close the door now?

Seattle, WA ____

I would love to have a note from you.


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