Interviews

All Interviews

Chinua Achebe

1994

On art and politics: “I think writers are not only writers, they are also citizens.”

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.”

Nelson Algren

1955

“I once heard two junkies arguing about my book, and finally one guy says, “If he really knew what he was talking about, he couldn't write the book, he'd be out in the can.”

Woody Allen

1995

“I find funny and silly the pompous kind of self-important talk about the artist who takes risks. Artistic risks are like show-business risks—laughable.”

Yehuda Amichai

1992

“The phrase I like to use to describe my sense of time—a play on comparative literature—is comparative time.”

Martin Amis

1998

“During signing sessions my queue is always full of, you know, wild-eyed sleazebags and people who stare at me very intensely, as if I have some particular message for them.”

Kingsley Amis

1975

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

A. R. Ammons

1996

On readings: “It's not a love of poetry readings that attracts those who do come to them but theater: to see what the beast looks like in person.”

Maya Angelou

1990

“If you are going to write autobiography, don't expect that it will clear anything up. It makes it more clear to you, but it doesn't alleviate anything.”

John Ashbery

1983

“I often wonder if I am suffering from some mental dysfunction because of how weird and baffling my poetry seems to so many people and sometimes to me too.”

Margaret Atwood

1990

On foreignness: “In the center of an empire, you can think of your experience as universal. Outside the empire, or on the fringes of the empire, you cannot.”

Louis Auchincloss

1994

“I think Shakespeare got drunk after he finished King Lear. That he had a ball writing it.”

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.”

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.”

James Baldwin

1984

“After my best friend jumped off the bridge, I knew that I was next. So—Paris. With forty dollars and a one-way ticket.”

J. G. Ballard

1984

On the dangers of writing too much: “By the eighteenth book, one has a sense of having bricked oneself into a niche, a roosting place for other people's pigeons. I wouldn't recommend it.”

Russell Banks

1998

“It was pretty easy to picture myself at his [Castro’s] side. He was, in some ways, the good father.”

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.”

John Barth

1985

On teaching creative writing: “Finally you begin to make your mistakes on the highest level—let's say the upper slopes of slippery Parnassus—and it's at that point you need coaching.”

Donald Barthelme

1981

On the difficulty of writing about sex: “Faint equivalents can sometimes be found. . . . Or it can be rendered obliquely—an adolescent’s mental image of his or her parents making love, which must be something on the order of crocodiles mating.”

Sybille Bedford

1993

“I write because I'm a writer. It is rather like cooking: to make something out of the raw material at hand.”

Louis Begley

2002

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

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.”

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.”

Elizabeth Bishop

1981

On winning the Pulitzer Prize while living in Brazil: “There was one vegetable man we always went to. And he said, “You know, it's amazing! Last week Señora (Somebody) took a chance on a bicycle and she won! My customers are so lucky!”

Harold Bloom

1991

On therapy patients: “Perhaps they become better people, but they also become stale and uninteresting people with very few exceptions. Like dried-out cheese, or wilted flowers.”

Robert Bly

2000

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

Heinrich Boll

1983

“Behind every word a whole world is hidden that must be imagined.”

Yves Bonnefoy

1994

“Since thanks to poetry the world is closer, and its unity more perceptible, we feel more part of that unity: like the leaf of a tree, even if it falls off the branch, in an instant that is eternal. So what is death?”

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.”

Paul Bowles

1981

“I wanted to meet [other artists]. I suppose I simply felt that I was taking pot shots at clay pipes. Pop! Down goes Gertrude, down goes Jean Cocteau, down goes André Gide.”

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.”

Ray Bradbury

2010

"You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices."

Harold Brodkey

1991

“Being an object of curiosity (and rivalry) is very peculiar when you’re no longer young. You really spend an awful lot of your time in New York just being confused about how to act.”

Joseph Brodsky

1982

“[Persecution mania] is still around. In your writing, in your exchanges with people, meeting people who are in Russian affairs, Russian literature, etcetera.”

Anita Brookner

1987

“The self-fulfilled woman is far from reality.”

William F. Buckley Jr.

1996

“I hate to use the word in this context, but I must . . . my novels celebrate the cold war, and therefore the passions awakened by this titanic struggle are really a narrative obligation.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

James M. Cain

1978

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

Erskine Caldwell

1982

“Southern writers must have learned the art of storytelling from listening to oral tales. I did. It gave me the knowledge that the simplest incident can make a story.”

Hortense Calisher

1987

“. . . I used to think I lacked confidence. Now I think I knew I had nothing much yet to write about. Or not perspective enough to know what was there.”

Italo Calvino

1992

On starting a new novel: “Every time I must find something to do that will look like a novelty, something a little beyond my capabilities.”

Truman Capote

1957

On his childhood: “I was thought somewhat eccentric, which was fair enough, and stupid, which I suitably resented . . . ”

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.”

Raymond Carver

1983

On teaching at the Iowa Writer’s Conference: “The entire time [John Cheever and I] were there . . . I don't think either of us ever took the covers off our typewriters. We made trips to a liquor store twice a week in my car.”

Joyce Cary

1954

“Critics write about my vitality. What is vitality? As a principle it is a lot of balls. The life-force is rubbish, an abstraction, an idea without character.”

Louis-Ferdinand Céline

1964

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

Camilo José Cela

1996

Interviewer: “You [think] that not only should a writer have enemies but that he should actually cultivate them?” Cela: “Yes, so that they help him move up the ladder.”

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.”

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.”

Amy Clampitt

1993

On the Sexual Revolution:
“ . . . some very plausible stuff is being written by women in a way that most men are not doing . . . ”

Jean Cocteau

1964

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

Billy Collins

2001

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

Julio Cortazar

1984

“Literature is . . . a game, but it's a game one can put one's life into.”

Malcolm Cowley

1982

On Hemingway: “He always had trouble with plots because he wasn't so much filling out a plot as he was making a journey or progression, day by day.”

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 . . . ”

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.”

R. Crumb

2010

"It knocked you off your horse, taking LSD. I remember going to work that Monday, after taking LSD on Saturday, and it just seemed like a cardboard reality."