Every week, the editors of The Paris Review lift the paywall on a selection of interviews, stories, poems, and more from the magazine’s archive. You can have these unlocked pieces delivered straight to your inbox every Sunday by signing up for the Redux newsletter.
Tom Wolfe died last week, at eighty-eight. So today, we bring you his Art of Fiction interview. We also bring you Barbara Grossman’s tale about a young man and his house plants, “My Vegetable Love,” and Gwyneth Lewis’s poem about Florida titled “Pentecost.”
Tom Wolfe, The Art of Fiction No. 123
Issue no. 118 (Spring 1991)
I always have a clock in front of me. Sometimes, if things are going badly, I will force myself to write a page in a half an hour. I find that can be done. I find that what I write when I force myself is generally just as good as what I write when I’m feeling inspired. It’s mainly a matter of forcing yourself to write. There’s a marvelous essay that Sinclair Lewis wrote on how to write. He said most writers don’t understand that the process begins by actually sitting down.
My Vegetable Love
By Barbara Grossman
Issue no. 74 (Fall–Winter 1978)
My brother is a horticulturist. From where nobody knows. We are a family of merchants, shopkeepers, purveyors of service; none of us is concerned with growth. But my brother keeps two hundred healthy plants on our porch, and they respond to his tending as if he’d come from farmers. On that porch, in heavy clay pots stacked so close as to become walls, hanging in curtains from glinting hooks screwed into the ceiling, on shelves and windowsills and perched upon the edges of upturned orange crates, grow plants with names enough to provide an entire generation identity.
The Lord wants me to go to Florida.
I shall cross the border with the mercury thieves,
as foretold in the faxes and prophecies,
and the checkpoint angel of Estonia
will have alerted the uniformed birds
to act unnatural and distract the guards
so I pass unhindered. My glossolalia
shall be my passport—I shall taste the tang
of travel on the atlas of my tongue—
salt Poland, sour Denmark and sweet Vienna
and all men in the Spirit shall understand
that, in His wisdom, the Lord has sent …
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