“You Learn to Trust It”: An Interview with Horton Foote



At 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Recently, 92Y and The Paris Review have made recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. Consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts, or surprisingly lifelike radio adaptations.

This week we’re rolling out the four latest editions to the collection: Horton Foote, Gail Godwin, Reynolds Price, and Tony Kushner. All are Southerners, and as coincidence would have it, we’re just in time for the 150th anniversary of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House and the end of the Civil War, on April 9.

First up, the dramatist Horton Foote, whom Frank Rich interviewed on March 28, 1996. Interestingly, The Paris Review never ran a print version of this conversation, so the contents of this recording are entirely new to most of us. Foote—who died in 2009, at the age of ninety-two—is known for his screenplays for To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies. “I come out of a strong oral tradition in the South,” he says.

Plays, at least for me, they grow out of a lot of meditation. You do a lot of thinking, and then, finally, you think you have the thing that’s going to take you all the way to the end. Sometimes you’re wrong. I make sketches, I write notes to myself, and then, finally, I think I’m ready to go. I write as fully fast as I can, and I’m often surprised at where it takes me … Endings are inevitably a surprise … you learn to trust it.

Tomorrow, we’ll feature Tony Kushner’s interview from 2003. In the meantime, you can check out some previous installments of the 92Y series: the poets (Maya Angelou, Denise Levertov, and Gary Snyder) and the travel writers (Paul Theroux, Jan Morris, and Peter Matthiessen).

We are able to share these recordings thanks to a generous gift in memory of Christopher Lightfoot Walker, longtime friend of the Poetry Center and The Paris Review.

Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.