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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In Praise of Impurity: On Literary Interviews

by Thomas E. Kennedy, Contributing Editor

The purist will insist that a book, a poem, a story, an essay must stand alone once its author has gone public with it. The purist wants no apology, no explanation. The purist of the purists don’t even want a bio note or a photo.

I’m not a purist. I’m not even pure. If I’m pure at anything, it is at being purely impure. And when it comes to literature, I crave all those extras—the footnotes, the prefaces, the introductions, the afterwords, the bio notes, the photos, even the blurbs, and the quotes from the reviews. All of it continues to hold me in its spell; even if wanting more than only the poem or the story itself might seem beside the point, I will continue to want more. I will eat the poem and the commentary, too, gobble down the bio notes and proceed to the photos, peering intently at the reflected faces of the authors for whatever else I might find there.

And I’m crazy about interviews, too. I’m crazy about reading interviews and love to be interviewed as well. I love to hear authors talk about everything from what kind of pencils they write with, to what they read, to where they best like to sit when they write, to whether they write drunk or sober or high or in between, to whether they have sex when working on a novel. (Hemingway claimed that he didn’t because the same motor was involved in both activities—poor Papa!)

I want to hear it all! Just like Eliot’s Lazarus come back from the dead to tell us all—I’m all ears! Tell me, Lazarus! Tell me every single detail!

And in this age when people no longer write letters, I believe that interviewers fill a gaping need by getting authors to go on record with their thoughts about their art, their thoughts during the process of creating their art, the extra-literary factors that impact upon the literary factors. How much they get paid—or how little. Whether they’re involved in choosing the covers of their books. Whether they seek advice from writer friends, from lovers. Whether they listen to music when they write—and if so, which music. Whether they write everyday and for how long. I want to hear it all!

So I am here to praise the interviewers—the John Griswolds (, the Derek Algers (—all the great interviews that appear in all the great literary magazines—the Writers Chronicle interviews, the Paris Review series, the Glimmer Train series—and indeed the interviews that appear in text or via links in the new issue of Serving House Journal—Issue 2 includes interview extras with Terese Svoboda, Jeff Lindsay, Mathias B. Freese, Walter Cummins and Laura McCullough.

Come to think of it, there’s also a great one by John Griswold with Duff Brenna to which there is a link from the new issue. The occasion for that interview is the republication, by New American Press, of Brenna’s second novel, The Holy Book of the Beard—a novel wildly praised throughout the United States when it first appeared nearly fifteen years ago and which should never have been allowed to go out of print.

Praise to Griswold for showcasing it on his blog! Praise to all the interviewers!

I just can’t get enough of this holy impurity!

About Thomas E. Kennedy

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