The Paris Review is mourning the loss of our publisher and friend, Susannah Hunnewell. Over the course of her long affiliation with the magazine—she began as an editorial assistant in 1989, served as the Paris editor in the early 2000s, and in 2015 became the magazine’s seventh publisher—Susannah conducted several iconic Writers at Work interviews. This week, we’re unlocking all of her interviews: she championed the work of Oulipo cofounder Harry Mathews, examined the literary corpus of French provocateur and novelist Michael Houellebecq, and bonded with Parisian nonfiction novelist Emmanuel Carrère, who said working with Susannah “left me stunned and admiring.” She’s responsible for two Art of Fiction interviews with Nobel laureates, Kazuo Ishiguro and Mario Vargas Llosa, and most recently, she interviewed the translator-couple Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Along with these interviews, read Houellebecq’s short story “Submission” and Mathews’s poem “The Swimmer.”
Mario Vargas Llosa, The Art of Fiction No. 120
Issue no. 116 (Fall 1990)
I never get the feeling that I’ve decided rationally, cold-bloodedly to write a story. On the contrary, certain events or people, sometimes dreams or readings, impose themselves suddenly and demand attention. That’s why I talk so much about the importance of the purely irrational elements of literary creation.
Harry Mathews, The Art of Fiction No. 191
Issue no. 180 (Spring 2007)
I always set out to write a three-hundred-page novel, but whatever the length of the first draft, by the time I finish cutting out the deadwood it has dwindled to two-hundred-and-some pages. Except in French. Everything comes out longer in French.
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Art of Fiction No. 196
Issue no. 184 (Spring 2008)
When you find yourself in different parts of the world, you become embarrassingly aware of the things that culturally just don’t translate. Sometimes you spend four days at a time explaining a book to Danes. I don’t particularly like, for example, to use brand names and other cultural reference points, not just because they don’t transfer geographically. They don’t transfer very well in time either. In thirty years’ time, they won’t mean anything.
Michel Houellebecq, The Art of Fiction No. 206
Issue no. 194 (Fall 2010)
The hardest thing about writing a novel is finding the starting point, the thing that will open it up. And even that doesn’t guarantee success. I basically failed with Platform, even though tourism is an excellent point of departure for understanding the world.
Emmanuel Carrère, The Art of Nonfiction No. 5
Issue no. 206 (Fall 2013)
Today still, when I’m not working on anything, I’ll take a notebook, and for a few hours a day I’ll just write whatever comes, about my life, my wife, the elections, trying not to censor myself. That’s the real problem obviously—“without denaturalizing or hypocrisy.” Without being afraid of what is shameful or what you consider uninteresting, not worthy of being written. It’s the same principle behind psychoanalysis. It’s just as hard to do and just as worth it, in my opinion. Everything you think is worth writing. Not necessarily worth keeping, but worth writing.
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, The Art of Translation No. 4
Issue no. 213 (Summer 2015)
One thing I love about translating is the possibility it gives me to do things that you might not ordinarily do in English. I think it’s a very important part of translating. The good effect of translating is this cross-pollination of languages.
By Michel Houellebecq
Issue no. 213 (Summer 2015)
The academic study of literature leads basically nowhere, as we all know, unless you happen to be an especially gifted student, in which case it prepares you for a career teaching the academic study of literature—it is, in other words, a rather farcical system that exists solely to replicate itself and yet manages to fail more than 95 percent of the time. Still, it’s harmless, and can even have a certain marginal value.
By Harry Mathews
Issue no. 37 (Spring 1966)
Removing my watch, pleased with the morning weather,
I dove—I would cross the Atlantic by myself Neither she,
Nor I, nor Brooklyn minded.
Still so near: I must swim harder. This striving
(On love’s anniversary she had turned to mud in my bed)
For distance and brave attitude
Corrupted the serene wishlessness …