This conversation between Reynolds Price and Frederick Busch, part of a collaboration between 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center and The Paris Review, was recorded live at 92Y on November 19, 1990. We are able to share this recording thanks to a generous gift in memory of Christopher Lightfoot Walker, longtime friend of the Poetry Center and The Paris Review. Here is an excerpt from the full interview that ran in The Paris Review as The Art of Fiction No. 127 in the winter of 1991.
What’s the most fun for you to read?
Biography, every time, and history. With fiction I’m always hopelessly behind, as you and most practitioners are, in reading the books of my friends that arrive more or less hourly in the mail—we’re all such industrious marmosets. No, I still enjoy fiction that is as broadly based as possible, and I think the majority of my own work is not primarily rural. It’s primarily small town to small city and rural. Richmond, Virginia, and Raleigh, North Carolina are about as large as cities get in my work until now, or Oxford, England in the case of one novel which is largely set there; but I love the revealing truth of that tick, that pendulum tick back and forth between city and country.
Of course, we now have endless citizens of the Western world who’ve been reared entirely in urban surroundings, children who think chocolate milk comes from black cows. And the problem for them as potential writers and readers is not simply that cities are loud or dirty or dangerous. The root problem is that cities are the least permanent things in our civilization. Any pebble on the outskirts of town stands a far better chance of lasting than New York City does. New York City can disappear in an instant if the wrong person presses the wrong button. It would be very difficult to destroy the planet as such. This reminds me always of Wordsworth’s preface to Lyrical Ballads, in which he says that his choice of scenes is largely from country life because there we are presented with the permanent objects of nature that are best suited to contemplation. I mean, if you contemplate Trump Tower—if you sneeze—it may not be there. It may have been improved, disimproved, imploded, or exploded.
Christopher Lightfoot Walker (1954-2012) served as poster director, prints director and advisory editor ofThe Paris Review. He also volunteered at the 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, making transcriptions, which were models of their kind, of audio recordings of live literary events. Chris was born in New York City, attended the Buckley School, then went west to Fountain Valley School and back east to Hampshire College. He was engaged in a number of entrepreneurial efforts (some in collaboration with his father, Angus Lightfoot Walker, longtime chairman of the City Investing Company), when, at the age of 31, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He wore his adversity lightly, retaining, in addition to his considerable wits, his sense of humor and sense of fun. Against the odds he remained a person on whom no delightful thing was ever lost. Chris was always grateful for the refuge he was able to find in the work provided by the Y.