“I come to America, I go to England, I go to France…nobody’s at risk. They’re afraid of getting cancer, losing a lover, losing their jobs, being insecure. … It’s only in my own country that I find people who voluntarily choose to put everything at risk—in their personal life.”
The Paris Review
“But to grow up costs the earth, the earth. It means you take responsibility for the time you take up, for the space you occupy. It’s serious business. And you find out what it costs us to love and to lose, to dare and to fail. And maybe even more, to succeed. What it costs, in truth. Not superficial costs—anybody can have that—I mean in truth. That’s what I write. What it really is like. I’m just telling a very simple story.”
“A story is a kind of biopsy of human life.”
“In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.”
“I think you are asking me, in the most tactful way possible, about my own aggression and malice. What can I do but plead guilty? I don’t know whether journalists are more aggressive and malicious than people in other professions. We are certainly not a ‘helping profession.’ If we help anyone, it is ourselves, to what our subjects don’t realize they are letting us take. I am hardly the first writer to have noticed the not-niceness of journalists. Tocqueville wrote about the despicableness of American journalists in Democracy in America. In Henry James’s satiric novel The Reverberator, a wonderful rascally journalist named George M. Flack appears. I am only one of many contributors to this critique. I am also not the only journalist contributor. Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion, for instance, have written on the subject. Of course, being aware of your rascality doesn’t excuse it.”
“The ‘hard’–science fiction writers dismiss everything except, well, physics, astronomy, and maybe chemistry. Biology, sociology, anthropology—that’s not science to them, that’s soft stuff. They’re not that interested in what human beings do, really. But I am. I draw on the social sciences a great deal. ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼I get a lot of ideas from them, particularly from anthropology. When I create another planet, another world, with a society on it, I try to hint at the complexity of the society I’m creating, instead of just referring to an empire or something like that.”
INTERVIEWER: I imagine that people try to set you up as some sort of guru, whether political or metaphysical.
LESSING: I think people are always looking for gurus. It’s the easiest thing in the world to become a guru. It’s quite terrifying.
“I think I knew that at heart I was an aging spinster.”
Memories of living with the writer Andrew Lytle late in his life.
“No one works better out of anguish at all; that’s an incredible literary conceit.”
A woman from the past emerges with an offer.
"She was tall with a long, elegant nose like a thoroughbred. What people look like isn't the same as what you remember. She had been coming out of a restaurant one time, down some steps long after lunch in a silk dress that clung around the hips and the wind pulled against her legs. The afternoons, he thought for a moment."
An interview with the late writer.
A 12-hour interview on career and craft.
Dead creatures reflect on their current/eternal circumstance.
"Enshrouded and encased, the animal mummies are trying to be patient. They did not expect the afterlife to be lit with flickering, fluorescent bulbs. Darkened sarcophagi, woven boats rowed across the heavenly river, glimmering, gorgeous night—that was what they thought would be in store after they died and priests washed them with palm wine and pulled white linen tight."
A one-sided interview about a one night stand and a detailed, harrowing story about a sexual assault.
"That it was a titanic struggle, she said, in the Cutlass, heading deeper into the secluded area, because whenever for a moment her terror bested her or she for any reason lost her intense focus on the mulatto, even for a moment, the effect on the connection was obvious—his profile smiled and his right eye again went empty and dead as he recrudesced and began once again to singsong psychotically about the implements in his trunk and what he had in store for her once he found the ideal secluded spot, and she could tell that in the wavering of the soul-connection he was automatically reverting to resolving his connectionary conflict in the only way he knew. And I clearly remember her saying that by this time, whenever she succumbed and lost her focus for a moment and his eye and face reverted to creepy psychotic unconflicted relaxation, she was surprised to find herself feeling no longer paralyzing terror for herself but a nearly heartbreaking sadness for him, for the psychotic mulatto. And I’ll say that it was at roughly this point of listening to the story, still nude in bed, that I began to admit to myself that not only was it a remarkable postcoital anecdote but that this was, in certain ways, rather a remarkable woman, and that I felt a bit sad or wistful that I had not noticed this level of remarkability when I had first been attracted to her in the park."
Browsing the stacks with The Washington Post’s Michael Dirda.
I can’t ask anything. Once in a while if I’m forced into it I will conduct an interview, but it’s usually pro forma, just to establish my credentials as somebody who’s allowed to hang around for a while. It doesn’t matter to me what people say to me in the interview because I don’t trust it.
A prison camp, inhabited by dentist-philosophers, murderous baseball players, and other colorful figures.
"Shortstop: Evelyn Roak, surgeon, supplied human fragments to a delicatessen, and was undone by scandalous amputations."
INTERVIEWER: You once said the novel is dead. VIDAL: That was a joke.
An interview with the novelist.
A troubled mother and daughter spend their first day in Los Angeles.
"I wonder what we looked like then, that day we drove over into California. My mother could probably still tell you what we wore. We were driving to California from Bay City, Wisconsin, just the two of us, so I could be a television star. We'd taken Ted's Mobile Credit Card and stayed in motels, charging gasoline and Cokes on the bills. We dug up to our shoulders in the ice chests, bringing the cold pop bottles up like a catch. We'd stolen vegetables all across America, anything we could eat without cooking. My mother spotted the trucks."
This interview with Kurt Vonnegut was originally a composite of four interviews done with the author over the past decade. The composite has gone through an extensive working over by the subject himself, who looks upon his own spoken words on the page with considerable misgivings . . . indeed, what follows can be considered an interview conducted with himself, by himself.
An Indian woman is torn between Hinduism and Christianity.
"We were all somewhat worried by this, but Gold Teeth's religious nature was well known to us, her husband was a learned pundit and when all was said and done this was an emergency, a matter of life and death. So we could do nothing but look on. Incense and camphor and ghee burned now before the likenesses of Krishna and Shiva as well as Mary and Jesus. Gold Teeth revealed an appetite for prayer that equalled her husband's for food, and we marvelled at both, if only because neither prayer nor food seemed to be of any use to Ramprasad."
A supposedly deceased grandmother's unexpected visit is rife with confusion and memories.
"I nodded, and thought about what that might mean. 'But,' I said, 'there was an autopsy.'I didn’t want to offend her, and here she was, but there had been an autopsy."
We have a rich literature. But sometimes it’s a literature too ready to be neutralized, to be incorporated into the ambient noise. This is why we need the writer in opposition, the novelist who writes against power, who writes against the corporation or the state or the whole apparatus of assimilation. We’re all one beat away from becoming elevator music.
My mother was called to school frequently because I was yelling out things in class, quips in class, and because I would hand in compositions that they thought were in poor taste, or too sexual. Many, many times she was called to school.
HEMINGWAY: You go to the races? PLIMPTON: Yes, occasionally. HEMINGWAY: Then you read the Racing Form . . . . There you have the true art of fiction.
Envy and failure in the 1970s literary scene.
"There is a kind of minor writer who is found in a room of the library signing his novel. His index finger is the color of tea, his smile filled with bad teeth. He knows literature, however. His sad bones are made of it."
Semi-surreal account of a family's new home.
"The empty room, being a tabula rasa, bore aspects of total corruptibility, a potential we’d in childish obedience overlooked until now."
Three interviews with John Gardner, author of Grendel and The Art of Fiction, conducted over the last decade of his life.
"I’m not familiar with books on style. My role in the revival of Strunk’s book was a fluke—just something I took on because I was not doing anything else at the time. It cost me a year out of my life, so little did I know about grammar."
An interview on craft:
Writing The Subs in three nights was really a fantastic athletic feat as well as mental, you shoulda seen me after I was done...I was pale as a sheet and had lost fifteen pounds and looked strange in the mirror.
In the past the only people who wrote autobiographies or memoirs were very important, those who had a crucial role in the history of their own country—Napoleon, Goethe—or were witness to major events or people who had singular, adventurous lives. Otherwise, it is ridiculous to write your autobiography.
An interview with McPhee on his writing process, how he got his start at The New Yorker, and why he never understood how New Journalism could be called a revolution. “Anytime I was called a New Journalist I winced a little with embarrassment.”
The original new journalist on his start at the Times, his daily writing routine, and why he’s always taken notes on shirt boards.