Interviews

All Interviews

Conrad Aiken

1968

Recalling a dinner with T. S. Eliot: “He was wearing a cowboy hat, and we all got plastered . . . He couldn't walk, for his ankles were crossed, so Valerie lifted him into the taxi.”

Edward Albee

1966

“Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf means who's afraid of the big bad wolf . . . who's afraid of living life without false illusions.”

Saul Bellow

1966

“I seem to have the blind self-acceptance of the eccentric who can't conceive that his eccentricities are not clearly understood.”

Jorge Luis Borges

1967

On color: “When I began to lose my sight, the last color I saw was yellow, because it is the most vivid of colors. I live in a grey world, rather like the silver screen world. But yellow stands out.”

William S. Burroughs

1965

“The idea that addiction is somehow a psychological illness is, I think, totally ridiculous. It's as psychological as malaria. It's a matter of exposure.”

Louis-Ferdinand Céline

1964

“Savy, the biologist, said something appropriate: In the beginning there was emotion, and the verb wasn't there at all . . . ”

Blaise Cendrars

1966

“If [the crowd of expatriate poets in Paris] was influenced it was rather by the ambiance, the air of Paris and the way of living in France, rather than by this or that French author.”

Jean Cocteau

1964

“. . . Appreciation of art is a moral erection; otherwise mere dilettantism. I believe sexuality is the basis of all friendship.”

Robert Creeley

1968

Describing the effect of hallucinatory drugs on the creative process: “[It’s] terrific! That's at least what I'd like to say.”

Simone de Beauvoir

1965

“ . . . I've shown women as they are, as divided human beings, and not as they ought to be.”

John Dos Passos

1969

“Our development and that of the Soviet Union have many things in common except that the Soviet Union is motivated by this tremendous desire for world conquest.”

Ilya Ehrenburg

1961

“[Flaubert said] ‘If you want to describe courage, do not become a soldier; a lover, do not fall in love; a drunkard, do not drink wine.’ There is . . . a brilliant refutation of this theory: Stendhal.”

Robert Frost

1960

“. . . Why don't critics talk about those things—what a feat it was to turn that that way, and what a feat it was to remember that, to be reminded of that by this?”

Allen Ginsberg

1966

“. . . Thoreau [said], Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. Well there are millions of poems of quiet desperation and they are all published in The New Yorker.”

Robert Graves

1969

On the origins of Wife to Mr. Milton: “I'd always hated Milton, from earliest childhood, and I wanted to find out the reason. I found it. His jealousy. It's present in all his poems . . . ”

Lillian Hellman

1965

On the difficulties of writing about McCarthyism: “Few people acted large enough for drama and not pleasant enough for comedy.”

Aldous Huxley

1960

“I don't believe for a moment that creativity is a neurotic symptom. On the contrary, the neurotic who succeeds as an artist has had to overcome a tremendous handicap. He creates in spite of his neurosis, not because of it.”

Jack Kerouac

1968

I spent my entire youth writing slowly with revisions and endless rehashing, speculation and deleting and got so I was writing one sentence a day and the sentence had no FEELING. Goddamn it, FEELING is what I like in art, not CRAFTINESS and the hiding of feelings.

Robert Lowell

1961

“Most poetry is very formal, but when a modern poet is formal he gets more attention for it than old poets did.”

Norman Mailer

1964

On the idea of the novelist as God: “God can write in the third person only so long as He understands His world. But if the world becomes contradictory or incomprehensible to Him, then God begins to grow concerned with His own nature.”

Mary McCarthy

1962

“[Point of view is] the problem that everybody's been up against since Joyce, if not before. . . . I think this technical development has become absolutely killing to the novel.”

Henry Miller

1962

“I believe in saying the truth, coming out with it cold, shocking if necessary, not disguising it. In other words, obscenity is a cleansing process, whereas pornography only adds to the murk.”

Arthur Miller

1966

“In the Greek audience, fourteen thousand people sat down at the same time, to see a play . . . And nobody can tell me that those people were all readers of the New York Review of Books!”

Marianne Moore

1961

“I think the most difficult thing for me [in my writing] is to be satisfactorily lucid, yet have enough implication in it to suit myself.”

Vladimir Nabokov

1967

"I am as American as April in Arizona. The flora, the fauna, the air of the western states, are my links with Asiatic and Arctic Russia."

Boris Pasternak

1960

“[With Dr. Zhivago] it seemed to me that it was my duty to make a statement about our epoch. . . . I wanted to record the past and to honor . . . the beautiful and sensitive aspects of the Russia of those years.”

S. J. Perelman

1963

“Writers who pontificate about their own use of language drive me right up the wall. . . . In what spare time I have, I read the expert opinions of V. S. Pritchett and Edmund Wilson, who are to my mind the best-qualified authorities on the written English language.”

Harold Pinter

1966

“The other night I watched some politicians on television talking about Vietnam. I wanted very much to burst through the screen with a flamethrower and burn their eyes out and their balls off and then inquire from them how they would assess this action from a political point of view.”

Katherine Anne Porter

1963

“Even Saint Teresa said, ‘I can pray better when I'm comfortable.’ . . . I don't think living in cellars and starving is any better for an artist than it is for anybody else . . . ”

Ezra Pound

1962

“. . . It is doubtful whether the individual soul is going to be allowed to survive at all. Now you get a Buddhist movement with everything except Confucius taken into it.”

Isaac Bashevis Singer

1968

“I wonder what these people thought thousands of years ago of these sparks they saw when they took off their woolen clothes?”

John Steinbeck

1969

“Once in college I . . . got to going to the library and reading what I wanted instead of what was required. I got behind. . . . And I still have bad dreams about that. It must have cut a very deep channel.”

John Updike

1968

“When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas . . . ”

Evelyn Waugh

1963

“An artist must be a reactionary. He has to stand out against the tenor of the age and not go flopping along; he must offer some little opposition.”

E. B. White

1969

“I think that our notion of what we experienced as children is highly infected by whatever is the prevailing philosophy of childhood.”

William Carlos Williams

1964

“Eliot . . . wanted to be regular, to be true to the American idiom, but he didn't find a way to do it. One has to bow down finally, either to the English or to the American.”

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

1965

On the Day of Poetry, a Russian festival:
“ . . . Moscovite poets assemble . . . in front of a huge crowd of eight or ten thousand people. . . . There have been years when snow fell that day, but the crowd did not disband; it stood listening in the storm.”