Interviews

All Interviews

Kingsley Amis

1975

“Being American is, I think, a very difficult thing in art, because all the elements are European . . . “

W. H. Auden

1974

On hippies: “What I do like about them is that they have tried to revive the spirit of ‘Carnival.’ But I'm afraid that when they renounce work entirely, the fun turns ugly.”

John Berryman

1972

“I think that what happens in my poetic work in the future will depend on my being knocked in the face, and thrown flat, and given cancer, and all kinds of other things short of senile dementia.”

Anthony Burgess

1973

“. . . if [other writers] can spend—as one of my American girl students did—ten pages on the act of fellatio without embarrassing themselves, very good luck to them.”

James M. Cain

1978

“Writing a novel is like working on foreign policy. There are problems to be solved. It's not all inspirational.”

John Cheever

1976

“Fiction must compete with first-rate reporting. If you cannot write a story that is equal to a factual account of battle in the streets or demonstrations, then you can't write a story.”

James Dickey

1976

On Allen Ginsberg: “I think Ginsberg has done more harm to the craft that I honor and live by than anybody else . . . ”

Joan Didion

1978

“Another thing I need to do, when I'm near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it. . . . Somehow the book doesn't leave you when you're asleep right next to it.”

J. P. Donleavy

1975

On fan recognition: “My wife thinks I'm constantly walking around thinking I'm famous and that someone's recognized me when all they're looking at is my possible bad taste in clothing.”

Margaret Drabble

1978

“The whole question of free will and choice and determinism is inevitably interesting to a novelist. Are your characters puppets in the hands of fate or are they really able to make free choices?”

Stanley Elkin

1976

“We all die, yes? We suffer, correct? The score keeps changing, is it not so? And Mommy holds us on the teeter-totter before we can sit upright on chairs.”

John Gardner

1979

“While my father was milking the cows my mother would come out and read something to him—Lear, say—leaving out the part of whomever my father felt like being that day, and he'd answer his lines from the cow.”

William Gass

1977

“Getting even is one great reason for writing.”

William Goyen

1976

“It is enraging to work in words, sometimes; no wonder writers are often nervous and crazy: Paint seems to be a more benevolent, a more soothing and serene-making medium.”

Joseph Heller

1974

“Often when I am very tired, just before going to bed, while washing my face and brushing my teeth, my mind gets very clear . . .”

David Ignatow

1979

“I'm not a Buddha in the sense of I can sit under a tree for a thousand years. Who can? The climate doesn't allow for it, anyway . . . ”

Christopher Isherwood

1974

On writing for the entertainment industry: “I'll bet Shakespeare compromised himself a lot; anybody who's in the entertainment industry does to some extent. But are you going to sink or swim?”

Jerzy Kosinski

1972

“[Nabokov’s] language is made visible . . . like a veil or transparent curtain. You cannot help seeing the curtain as you peek into the intimate rooms behind.”

Peter Levi

1979

“. . . whoever you are, you've got to start from where you are. If you're a sailor, and only know sailor's language, well, write in it, for God's sake.”

Archibald MacLeish

1974

“. . . The Greeks regarded what we call ‘public’ experience as part of human experience. This is what gives such ground and scope and humanity to Greek poetry at its greatest.”

Bernard Malamud

1975

“Comedy, I imagine, is harder to do consistently than tragedy, but I like it spiced in the wine of sadness.”

Pablo Neruda

1971

“My house has been burned; I have been detained more than once; I have been exiled; they have declared me incommunicado . . . Very well then. I'm not comfortable with what I have.”

Joyce Carol Oates

1978

“I have beliefs, of course, like everyone—but I don't always believe in them.”

Charles Olson

1970

“I've been very lucky, very lucky. I'm sorry, but I was born with a towel on my head.”

Anthony Powell

1978

On seeing a sexually suggestive billboard: “ . . . I'm not sure that I really particularly want to see [the actor] having her. I think my own imagination would be better about that than him doing it.”

Jean Rhys

1979

“One day in the snow I felt so tired. I thought, ‘Damn it, I'll sit down. I can't go on’ . . . So I sat down on the ground. But it was so cold I got up. Oh yes, I used to try to imagine death, but I always come up against a wall.”

George Seferis

1970

“In English the expression ‘ancient Greece’ includes the meaning of ‘finished,’ whereas for us Greece goes on living, for better or for worse; it is in life, has not expired yet.”

Anne Sexton

1971

“I think I’ve been writing black poems all along, wearing my white mask. I’m always the victim ... but no longer!”

Irwin Shaw

1979

“The most brilliant example [of good editing] in our time
. . . was Ezra Pound’s editing of The Waste Land, which made the poem infinitely better.”

John Steinbeck

1975

“Writing to me is a deeply personal, even a secret function and when the product I turned loose it is cut off from me and I have no sense of its being mine. Consequently criticism doesn’t mean anything to me. As a disciplinary matter, it is too late.”

Gore Vidal

1974

“One of the reasons that the gifted Hemingway never wrote a good novel was that nothing interested him except a few sensuous experiences, like killing things and fucking . . . ”

Kurt Vonnegut

1977

On why a person would insert a set of false teeth between the cheeks of his (or her) ass: “In order to bite the buttons off the back seats of taxicabs. That's the only reason twerps do it. It's all that turns them on.”

Eudora Welty

1972

“Once you're into a story everything seems to apply—what you overhear on a city bus is exactly what your character would say on the page you're writing. Wherever you go, you meet part of your story.”

Jessamyn West

1977

On her childhood scrapbook: “In it, you can see, I have written thirty plots. Across about half of them, I have written, ‘NUTS.’”

John Hall Wheelock

1976

“Music, perhaps, comes nearest to reality . . . the mathematical relationships within the universe made audible. All the arts tend to that, but in music it seems to succeed . . . ”

Richard Wilbur

1977

“A man like Sartre can get a whole book out of a proposition which is, on the face of it, untrue . . . ”

P. G. Wodehouse

1975

“The thing to do is to say to yourself, 'Which are my big scenes?' and then get every drop of juice out of them.”

James Wright

1975

“Human beings are unhappily part of nature, perhaps nature become conscious of itself . . . I love Nietzsche, who called man 'the sick animal.’”

Marguerite Young

1977

“At the age of eighteen all young poets are sure they will be dead at twenty-one . . . ”