Interviews

All Interviews

Paul Auster

2003

“Writing has always had a tactile quality for me. It’s a physical experience.”

Beryl Bainbridge

2000

“I've never been drawn to the feminist movement. I've never been put down by a man, unless I deserved it, and have never felt inferior.”

John Banville

2009

“When I finish a sentence, after much labor, it’s finished. A certain point comes at which you can’t do any more work on it because you know it will kill the sentence.”

Julian Barnes

2000

“Writers of either gender ought to be able to do the opposite sex—that's one basic test of competence, after all.”

Andrea Barrett

2003

“I’m not adopted. But that longing and that sense of absence . . . are perhaps other ways of expressing the actualities of my family. Different facts, same emotions.”

Louis Begley

2002

“I’m not ashamed to admit that occasionally I’ve found myself aroused by my own depictions of sex.”

Robert Bly

2000

“One man wrote me, saying, ‘You know who you are? You're nothing but a Captain Bly pissing up a drainpipe!’”

T. Coraghessan Boyle

2000

On life imitating art: “The very genetic determinism I posited in World's End as a way of shaking off my inherited demons is being proven in fact as we map out the human genome.”

A. S. Byatt

2001

“I don’t see much point in doing things for a pure joke. Every now and then you need a joke, but not so much as the people who spend all their lives constructing joke palaces think you do.”

Peter Carey

2006

On sitting down to write: “It's like standing on the edge of a cliff. This is especially true of the first draft. Every day you're making up the earth you're going to stand on.”

Anne Carson

2004

“At least half of your mind is always thinking, I’ll be leaving; this won’t last. It’s a good Buddhist attitude. If I were a Buddhist, this would be a great help. As it is, I’m just sad.”

Billy Collins

2001

“Until recently, I thought ‘occasional poetry’ meant that you wrote only occasionally.”

Jim Crace

2003

“My father had osteomyelitis—his left arm was withered between his elbow and his shoulder. . . . But the amputation of a Stone Age man called Leaf, a stoneworker, does not relate to my father at all . . . ”

Guy Davenport

2002

“The point of view I take is the point of view of Diogenes, which is that when a man owns a lion, a lion owns a man. The thing about technology is that it owns us.”

Joan Didion

2006

“Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing.”

Umberto Eco

2008

“I suspect that there is no serious scholar who doesn’t like to watch television. I’m just the only one who confesses. ”

James Ellroy

2009

“I’m a perfectionist. I go to great lengths to get it all right. It’s the biggest challenge I face when I’m writing. If you’re confused about something in one of my books, you’ve just got to realize, Ellroy’s a master, and if I’m not following it, it’s my problem.”

Paula Fox

2004

“I recall lying on a bed, looking at a manuscript on the floor as I reached to turn pages, and thinking to myself, I must mean everything I say, every word.”

Michael Frayn

2003

“If I were to give serious practical advice to a young writer about how to succeed I would say: ‘Write the same book, or the same play, over and over again, just very slightly different . . .’”

Jack Gilbert

2005

“When I started out I wouldn't write a poem until I knew the first line and the last line . . . I was a tyrant and I was good at it.”

Robert Giroux

2000

On meeting J. D. Salinger: “Then he said . . . ‘I'd like you to publish my novel.’ I said, ‘What novel?’ He said, ‘Oh, it isn't finished. It's about a kid in New York during the Christmas holidays.’”

Jorie Graham

2003

“[There] is all this narrowing to a now in which there’s only room for effect, not enough room for cause—and so no duration in which to experience personal accountability.”

David Grossman

2007

“I need, physically need, several hours every day to be alone and write.”

Barry Hannah

2004

Barry Hannah on self-hating Southerners, .45 caliber teaching tools, and overcoming alcoholism: "I was often taught that everything is worth it for art. Everything. It was a cult."

Shirley Hazzard

2005

“Housman's reference to the hairs rising at the back of one's neck as one reads a poem remains a test of quality. Such response is individual and cannot merely be generalized, dismantled, controlled.”

Amy Hempel

2003

“I assemble stories—me and a hundred million other people—at the sentence level. Not by coming up with a sweeping story line.”

Gustaw Herling

2000

“Can you imagine the sort of letters Henry James would have gotten had he written The Turn of the Screw in the first person?”

Geoffrey Hill

2000

“One encounters in any ordinary day far more real difficulty than one confronts in the most ‘intellectual’ piece of work. Why is it believed that poetry, prose, painting, music should be less than we are?”

Richard Howard

2004

On having been a precocious child: “Of course, what precocity gave, socialization took away, and I hope the rather nasty designation ‘precocious child’ faded away before (at least!) adolescence.”

Kazuo Ishiguro

2008

“I’ve never been intimidated by the idea of having to make up a story. It’s always been a relatively easy thing that people did in a relaxed environment.”

Ha Jin

2009

"English has more flexibility. It’s a very plastic, very shapeable, very expressive language. In that sense it feels quite natural."

Mary Karr

2009

"People who didn’t live pre-Internet can’t grasp how devoid of ideas life in my hometown was. I stopped in the middle of the SAT to memorize a poem, because I thought, This is a great work of art and I’ll never see it again."

Stephen King

2006

“They did type me as a horror writer, but I have been able to do all sorts of things within that framework.”

Carolyn Kizer

2000

On feminism: “It's a point of view; it's a stance; it's an attitude towards life that affects, and afflicts, everything I do.”

August Kleinzahler

2007

“I’ve always felt that there’s a very thin membrane between madness, alcoholism, and/or destitution and being an OK American guy in a comfortable heated apartment with meatballs and a decent Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge.”

Jonathan Lethem

2003

“I’m gregarious with writers and never with manuscripts . . . I [like to] create the illusion of seamless perfection, so I alone know the flawed homely process along the way.”

Derek Mahon

2000

“Raymond Chandler [has said]: ‘No art without the resistance of the medium.’ But the resistance mustn't be gratuitously imported for tactical purposes.”

Norman Mailer

2007

“As you grow older, there’s no reason why you can’t be wiser as a novelist than you ever were before. You should know more about human nature every year of your life.”

Javier Marias

2006

“To think of posterity nowadays is ludicrous because things do not last. Books seem to last more than films or records but even they do not last very long.”

Harry Mathews

2007

“I discovered you could write prose the way you do poetry. You don’t approach it from the idea that what you have to say is inside you. It’s a materialist approach, for want of a better word. You make something. You give up expressing and start inventing.”

J. D. McClatchy

2002

“Lowell, who was the most exhaustingly literary person I’d ever met, I’ve always considered the master of rhetoric. He told me once that he worked over a line ‘until it sounds like Lowell.’”

Ian McEwan

2002

“Moments of crisis [in my writing] were to become a way of exploring and testing character. How we might withstand, or fail to withstand, an extreme experience . . . ”

Rick Moody

2001

“It’s important for me to have someone read the work who won’t let me get away with things. A bullshit detector. Essential to the process.”

Lorrie Moore

2001

“A novel is a daily labor over a period of years. But a story can be like a mad, lovely visitor, with whom you spend a rather exciting weekend.”

Paul Muldoon

2004

“I’m pretty interested in general knowledge, and science and arcane knowledge. Much more interested in that than I am in Literature with a capital L. Or at least as interested.”

Haruki Murakami

2004

“Even now, my ideal for writing fiction is to put Dostoyevsky and Chandler together in one book.”

Les Murray

2005

“It’s a deep dirty secret, in Australia, that I’m the wrong class to be a poet.”

Kenzaburo Oe

2007

“I’ve cultivated the first-person style as opposed to the third person. It’s a problem. A really good novelist is able to write in the third person, but I have never been able to write well in the third person.”

Orhan Pamuk

2005

“I am notorious for my political comments—most of which are picked up from international interviews and shamelessly manipulated by some Turkish nationalist journalists to make me look more radical and politically foolish than I really am.”

Richard Powers

2002

On how music is an intimation of death: “You start the song. . . and you know, even as you round the corner of the first verse, that it’s only going to last for four and a half minutes. All you can do is keep moving to it.”

Annie Proulx

2009

“The reason I put out-of-the-ordinary names on characters is because the John Smiths of the literary world make me sick”

Marilynne Robinson

2008

“I write novels quickly, which is not my reputation.”

Salman Rushdie

2005

“A story doesn’t have to be simple, it doesn’t have to be one-dimensional but, especially if it’s multidimensional, you need to find the clearest, most engaging way of telling it.”

Kay Ryan

2008

“What’s recombinant rhyme? It’s like how they add a snip of the jellyfish’s glow-in-the-dark gene to bunnies and make them glow green; by snipping up pieces of sound and redistributing them throughout a poem I found I could get the poem to go a little bit luminescent.”

Budd Schulberg

2001

“When On the Waterfront succeeded beyond our most optimistic dreams, we went on and did another one, and by this time I began to feel, Jesus, you can do the same thing in film that you can do in a book.”

Frederick Seidel

2009

"It seemed to me that if I didn’t write, I would disappear. The diversions, because that’s what they were, no longer diverted. I was left with myself and had to do the one thing I could to survive. I knew it would be difficult to write, very difficult, but I set about doing it."

Jorge Semprún

2007

“When I write, I make my memories tangible, and in this way I can get rid of them. On the other hand, writing is but a ploy to convulse memory back into life.”

Charles Simic

2005

“A ‘truth’ detached and purified of pleasures of ordinary life is not worth a damn in my view. Every grand theory and noble sentiment ought to be first tested in the kitchen—and then in bed, of course.”

Gay Talese

2009

Nonfiction writers are second-class citizens, the Ellis Island of literature. We just can't quite get in. And yes, it pisses me off.

James Tate

2006

“The thing that was magic about it was that once you put down one word, you could cross it out. . . . I put down mountain, then I'd go, no—valley. That's better.”

Hunter S. Thompson

2000

“Who the fuck do you think wrote the Book of Revelation? A bunch of stone-sober clerics?”

Luisa Valenzuela

2001

“Journalism requires a horizontal gaze; it is absolutely factual. On the other hand, fiction requires a vertical gaze—delving deeper into the non-facts, the unconscious, the realm of the imaginary.”

William T. Vollmann

2000

“Well, the best way [to improve your female characters] is to have relationships with a lot of different women. What's the best way to do that? It's to pick up whores.”

William Weaver

2002

On translating Italo Calvino: “I had problems with Calvino because he thought he knew English . . . At one point he fell madly in love with the word feedback . . .

John Edgar Wideman

2002

“For me, the truth of the music, the truth of the blues, is immediacy.

Tobias Wolff

2004

“All I need is a window not to write.”