“People and Rooms”: An Interview with Gail Godwin



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.

Today, the last of our four Southerners: a conversation between Gail Godwin and John Irving from April 4, 1986. Godwin touches on her approach to trends in storytelling, or her careful distance from those trends:

I like to think of people … one hundred years from now reading my books and thinking, Well, they did things a little archaically back then, but they’re very similar … so yes, I am timeless, though contemporary … I like to spread myself out, I like to describe people and rooms, plot. I don’t like to write novels about gray people floating through the mall and you only can decipher who they are through the brand of their tennis shoes … That’s the fad now. When I was in college at Chapel Hill, the fad was, you had to write a story about old granny sitting on the porch and remembering the past … I came back to the Iowa Workshop and everyone was writing a story about a story that was writing a story that was writing a story … And I don’t choose to do that either. In that sense I’m very old-fashioned, and also ahead of the times.

You can also 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.