Thirteen contemporary writers, ranging from Malcolm Cowley (born 1898) to Raymond Carver (born 1938), comment informally on their work and craft, distinguish between their lives and works, between emotions and incidents, and discuss their self-criticism, work habits and influences. Philip Larkin, who conducted his interview by mail, is the most reclusive, John Ashbery the most distracted, Milan Kundera the least interested in talking about himself, Arthur Koestler the most uneasy, Philip Roth the liveliest, comparing his view of himself with Jack Benny's impersonation of a miser. It isn't Orwell's Big Brother who watches us from the screen, says Roth; it's we who are watching ``a terrifyingly powerful world leader with the soul of an amiable, soap-opera grandmother, the values of a civic-minded Beverly Hills Cadillac dealer, and the historical background and intellectual equipment of a high school senior in a June Allyson musical.'' Other participants in this delightful collection are John Barth, Elizabeth Hardwick, Eugene Ionesco, William Maxwell, Edna O'Brien and May Sarton. (October 7)
Each interview in this addition to the stimulating series is so different that it is hard to generalize about them. In some, interviewer and interviewee can barely disguise their impatience with each other; others are highly sympathetic. In this instance, ``interview'' is a highly misleading term; many writers gave answers to set questions by mail, and several of the interviews have been heavily edited. Nonetheless, many great names in 20th-century literature are represented here, including May Sarton, Eugene Ionesco, Philip Larkin, and Milan Kundera, and the insights they provide regarding the writing process are fascinating. A quibble: Does Elizabeth Hardwick really belong to this party? Carl Vogel, San Francisco P.L.
One of the 20th century's most beloved literary figures, Manhattan blueblood George Plimpton was the cofounder and longtime editor of The Paris Review and the originator of "participatory journalism," a literary style that plunged the writer into Walter Mitty-like arenas and translated those experiences into literature. Among his bestselling books are Out of My League, Paper Lion, and Edie: An American Biography.
The scion of New England bluebloods who traced their ancestry back to the Mayflower, affable WASP George Plimpton was one of the 20th century's most beloved literary figures. Raised in Manhattan and educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, Harvard University, and King's College, Cambridge, Plimpton co-founded The Paris Review in 1953 and served as its editor and guiding light for the next half century. Under his stewardship, the journal became a showcase for serious fiction and poetry by new and emerging writers. It also introduced a new style of author interview emphasizing the creative process and the writer's craft. Called by Salman Rushdie "the finest available inquiry into the 'how' of literature," the Paris Review interview remains an integral part of the magazine.
In addition to these highbrow pursuits, Plimpton is also responsible for originating a popular literary genre. Gregarious and adventurous by nature, he followed his intellectual curiosity into Walter Mitty-like arenas, then chronicled his exploitsmost of them noble failuresin works that came to be categorized as "participatory journalism." He sparred with heavyweight champ Archie Moore, pitched in an all-star exhibition baseball game, played percussion for the New York Philharmonic, and tried out for the circus. And although he was famous for lighthearted reportage (most notably Paper Lion, his sidesplitting 1966 account of training with the Detroit Lions football team), he proved his literary chops with well-received oral biographies of Edie Sedgwick and Truman Capote.
Instantly recognizable for his tall, lanky frame and upper-crust Brahmin accent, Plimpton was a popular fixture of the Manhattan literary and social scene. Upon his death in September, 2003, The New York Times recalled his "boundless energy and perpetual bonhomie." Five years later, Random House published George, Being George, an affectionate oral biography composed of anecdotes from more than 200 people who knew Plimpton in his many capacities. Editor and longtime Paris Review colleague Nelson Aldrich described the book as a "kind of literary party, George's last."
Good To Know
Like his grandfather and father before him, Plimpton enrolled in the prestigious New Hampshire prep school, Phillips Exeter Academy. He spent most of his time either in detention or on probation, and was finally expelled several months shy of graduation. The family was chagrinned, and Plimpton spent many years trying to atone for his failure. By the way, he graduated right on schedule from Daytona Beach High School!
Plimpton loved athletics, and much of the "participatory journalism" for which he's famous revolves around sports. He wrote books about his less-than-successful exploits in professional baseball (Out of My League), football (Paper Lion; Mad Ducks and Bears), golf (The Bogey Man), and hockey (Open Net).
He also loved fireworks and spent a lot of time with the Grucci family, whose Long Island-based company produced spectacular displays. He chronicled his longtime passion in the 1984 book Fireworks, and Mayor John Lindsay appointed him Fireworks Commissioner of New York, an unofficial title totally unrelated to government.
Plimpton made occasional forays into film, usually as an extra or in cameo appearances as himself.
A longtime friend of the Kennedy clan, Plimpton was with Bobby Kennedy in 1968 when the presidential candidate was assassinated. He also was in Norman Mailer's apartment the night the writer stabbed his wife.