“Consuming All the Crystals”: An Interview with Norman Mailer



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 debuting four new recordings from the series. Today, listen to Norman Mailer, who talked with George Plimpton on May 11, 1998. Though Mailer has been interviewed twice for the magazine—first in 1964 and later in 2007—this is one of the rare 92Y conversations that never made it to print, making it all the more interesting. Mailer talked about chair preference (“I like a hard chair when I write. Because I fall asleep in a soft one”), casting Plimpton in a movie, and why he didn’t write about his childhood: 

I have this belief that you have to save at least half of your crucial experiences. The ones that are crystalline. The ones that you always can recall. And you recall that every detail—what actors call a sense impression. You remember how things smelled, what they felt like, how you felt at the moment. You remember every single last part of this episode, or moment in your life. And the thing that happens is, if you don’t use them in writing—cause I think a lot of writers tend to go for those, because that’s usually where you get your best writing—but if you don’t use them, you can then employ them for years as a crystal, if you will, through which you can beam the light of your imagination in different directions, have totally different characters employed, working through this method, totally different messages, and it’s always there, the crystal’s there. It’s one reason why I’ve never wanted to do an autobiography. Because I felt, If I do that, I’d be blowing up all the bridges, consuming all the crystals, and it would mean I’m not going to do any more writing in fiction.

On April 20, 92Y will host the next installment of Paris Review Live: the poet Nathaniel Mackey will read from his work and sit for a conversation with Cathy Park Hong.

Earlier this week, we featured interviews with Arthur Miller and John le Carré. If you’d like to listen to more of these collaborations, check out our previous installments: the Southerners (Gail Godwin, Reynolds Price, Tony Kushner, and Horton Footethe 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.