On the Writer’s Elusive Self

【转帖自:The Washington Post

Joyce Carol Oates Interviews Herself

By Joyce Carol Oates, Published: September 13

All right, let’s cut to it — our audience, curiosity whetted by the ubiquitous social media, wants avidly to know: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you lately?

Do you mean as a “writer” — or just more generally?

Don’t be circumspect! Interest in you, at least minimal interest, derives from your being a “writer.”

Well — I was in the grocery store yesterday, in the dairy section, when a woman who’d been staring at me quizzically asked, “Are you some kind of writer?” Vaguely, I shook my head no, as if I might not have heard the question, and eased away without glancing back . . .

And then?

And then someone who knew me breezed by saying in a loud voice, “Hello, Joyce!” — and the woman must have overheard . . .

That is embarrassing! Denying your own writer-self, and even as the cock began to crow, someone comes along and outs you! Is this some kind of absurd modesty?

I could not explain to the woman: “I am not ‘Joyce Carol Oates’ right now, but a shopper in a grocery store. And the dairy section is freezing.”

If police had arrived and demanded your I.D., you’d have had to confess — what?

My driver’s license, passport, social security — are all in the name “Joyce Carol Smith.”

Why not “Oates”? Continue reading


本周二,J.K. 罗琳(J. K. Rowling)在纽约在其粉丝们尖叫呐喊声中接受了采访。她畅谈了自己的畅销新作《临时空缺》(The Casual Vacancy),谈了《临时空缺》与另一部畅销小说,E.L. 詹姆斯(E. L. James)的《五十种灰》(Fifty Grades of Grey)的区别。以下是有关这次访谈的报道:

J.K. Rowling cheered by fans at New York event

NEW YORK — J.K. Rowling quipped Tuesday about the difference between The Casual Vacancy, her first post-Harry Potter novel for grown-ups, and another kind of adult best seller: E.L. James’ erotic Fifty Shades of Grey.

“The difference is that people have sex in my book, but no one enjoys it,” Rowling told 2,500 cheering fans at an event at a Manhattan theater.

Rowling also said:

— She dreaded writing several scenes in her new novel, about social and political divisions in a small English town, particularly a rape, but “it had to happen. It was there for a reason.”

— Her new novel “might be appropriate for the right 14- or 15-year-old, but not any younger than that.” But parents, she added, should discuss the reasons with their children that it’s inappropriate.

— Her biggest challenge in moving from young readers to adults wasn’t “about writing in a contemporary world, in a real world,” but getting “the structure” right of a novel without a central character.

Rowling’s conversation on stage with the novelist Ann Patchett (State of Wonder), who owns a bookstore in Nashville, was her first public event in the U.S. for her new novel.

It drew a screaming crowd that gave Rowling a standing ovation as she walked on stage, prompting Patchett to say, “This is like a Stones concert.”

Patchett, “as a writer and bookseller,” praised Rowling “for doing more for reading than anyone else in my lifetime and for single-handedly keeping an industry alive.”

“No, no, no,” Rowling replied. “That’s way too much responsibility.”

The two authors sat on a stage normally used by the New York City Ballet and often drew laughs, especially when Patchett mentioned the double meaning of “adult novel.”

Both Rowling and Patchett shared they hadn’t read Fifty Shades.

“Everyone tells me the writing is terrible,” Patchett said.

“But that’s porn,” Rowling shot back to laughter. “Have you ever read The Story of O?”

“I went to Catholic school,” Patchett confessed.

“You’d like it even more,” Rowling replied.

The Casual Vacancy, which landed at No. 1 on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list and dropped to No. 4 last week, has gotten mixed reviews from critics, who have called it everything from dull to brilliant. But that wasn’t mentioned Tuesday.

When Rowling said she feared some readers may have missed the humor in The Casual Vacancy, Patchett said “it is a story not between evil and good, but between evil and funny.”

The crowd was predominantly female, mostly between 20 and 40, the generation that grew up on the Potter series.

Among them was Catherine Warren, 19, who had come all the way from the University of Georgia, where she’s a sophomore, to pay homage to the writer “who’s just so great.”

Warren remembered how her mother read to her the first two Potter novels “when I was in first or second grade, but then I finished them myself as the years went by.”

Warren said she’s 100 pages into The Casual Vacancy “and so far so good.” She said she’d loved to read “more about Harry Potter’s world” — which Rowling has said she won’t do — then added, “I understand what’s done is done.”


5月18日澳大利亚悉尼的作家大会上,曼布克评委会宣布美国作家菲利普·罗斯获得了第四届曼布克国际奖。曼布克国际奖是对作家一生成就的褒奖。也就是说,这个奖项是对罗斯50多年的创作生涯和成就的认可和赞扬。5月20日,罗斯接受了《电讯报》(The Telegraph)记者本杰明·泰勒(Benjamin Taylor)的专访。以下是专访的部分文字稿。《电讯报》原文配有相对完整的访谈视频。感兴趣者可以点击阅读原文,观看视频

Philip Roth: I’m not caged in by reality

Benjamin Taylor Were you one of those people who knew from childhood that you wanted to be a writer?

Philip Roth I didn’t know what a writer was, but I knew what books were because I would go to the Blanche library in our neighbourhood [of Newark, New Jersey], following the example of my brother, who would come home with half a dozen books. They were kids’ books, books about sports, books about the sea. I learnt what an author was in college. I began to read in my second year. I had entered college thinking I would study law. And I assumed I would do that. I was taking constitutional history, political science. Then I discovered literature and I was overcome. I wrote college stories to start with, which were as weak as anyone’s college stories. A few years later I was drafted and went into the army. At night when I went back to my office job I started writing stories that were OK. So [becoming a writer] wasn’t something I knew about and even when I did do it I never thought about it that much. Even when I started writing properly, I didn’t think I would make a living. Very few did make a living, and very few make a living now. I thought I needed to get a job, so I decided to teach English so I could write for those four or five months in the summer. That was my plan. Then I won a prize, the National Book award, and got a Guggenheim Award and then I was on easy street.

BT How was your stint in the army?

PR Actually I didn’t mind it. It’s fun to learn how to shoot a machine gun. Or use a bayonet. I hurt my back and wound up in hospital for two months and then eventually got discharged. My back still troubles me off and on. It might have been interesting had I been [in the army] longer. But that stint was enough. I got the idea.

BT When did history as a theme come into your writing?

PR I suppose in the mid-Eighties when I wrote The Counterlife. I don’t know what happened. It’s not so much that history was important, but place became important. I wanted to see what people were like in different places. London for one, Israel for another, Prague for a third. So place entered in and history came after. Why? Because I had gotten to be 50 or 60 and I could now look back on my life with historical perspective. You can’t do that when you’re young. It’s a mixture, then, of getting older and being enlivened by certain places that I’d been to.

BT When did you take up these themes of recent books: the Korean war, in 2008’s Indignation; or the perils of polio, in last year’s Nemesis? Do you do a lot of research or are you simply remembering?

PR I do my remembering while I’m writing. I don’t usually turn to the books until I’ve got a first draft of my story. I don’t want to be caged in by reality, as it were. I want my imagination to go wherever it wants to go. If it’s outlandish then of course I’ll get rid of it. Then, two or three drafts in, I begin to read books. Take The Plot Against America (2004): there’s a cousin in the book, I can’t remember his name, and he loses a leg in the war. He sleeps in a room with young Philip and he has a stump. So I found someone with a stump and I talked to him about how he got on living with it. He let me touch it, which was amazing. I walked on his crutches. He was a terrific fella. You may not use what the person says to you, but it stimulates you in the right direction. It launches your imagination. Or when I wrote about a kosher butcher in one of my books, Indignation, you’d think it would be easier not to consult books! But I did, I found interesting books about kosher meat. I also went to a kosher butcher in Brooklyn, went in and walked around and talked to the guys. I had been to them as a kid but I didn’t remember what it smelled like.

BT Some of the historical books have brought you poignant letters, from readers enmeshed in the events, on subjects like polio or the Korean war and so on…

PR The best come from people who want to discuss the subject of the book. And very often they have lived in a similar milieu or been through a similar hardship. Most recently, because of the publication of Nemesis [set during the Newark polio outbreak of 1944], I had gotten three or four or five or six letters from polio victims. All from men about my age because polio stopped with vaccinations of people in 1955 in America. These guys had got polio before that, as youngsters. And they’re so heartfelt and so descriptive, they made me feel validated in what I wrote.

BT Nemesis is the most recent in a series of four short novels. Can you say something about them?

PR About 10 years ago, I began to think about short novels. I had read quite a few. Saul Bellow was alive then and Saul had written three or four interesting short novels near the end of his life and I asked him how he did it. And he did what Saul [usually] did – he laughed. So I started to [write one]. It’s strange. With short stories, you’re fighting with one hand behind your back. How do you get the punch, the knock-out punch, in a short book? I had to find out. Maybe I found out. Maybe I didn’t.

BT Which writers in particular shaped you?

PR There are some writers who have made an indelible impression. I don’t know if they shaped me as a writer, but they shaped me as a thinker and a reader and as a literary person. When I first started out, at school, I had been steeped in Henry James and there was an “influence”, not all for the good, and there was a tone I picked up from James, that didn’t suit me at all. But it’s there in Letting Go (1962).

Kafka made a strong impression on me. His serious comedies of guilt touched me. I think Bellow, of course, has been a major figure in my mind and imagination all my life as a writer. Saul was born in 1915, so he’s 18 years older than me. Therefore he was a figure of awe for me. When I got to Chicago in 1955 to go to grad school and I read Augie March, it was my guidebook to the city. It all seemed so glamorous to me, to be in the city that nourishes the sky. I read Bellow’s books as soon as they came out.

BT Has the theatre every tempted you as it tempted writers like Henry James?

PR In the middle Sixties the Ford Foundation had a programme to try to interest novelists and poets to write plays. I got a grant from them to try to write a play. No one has written worse plays than me. Maybe Henry James. I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe there is no way to figure it out. Maybe that’s why there are very few good plays. But I couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t get anything that resembled my mind into the plays. I did that for two or three years and it didn’t work.

BT Among your exact contemporaries was John Updike, whose career runs alongside yours. You won the National Book award; he won the Rosenfeld award. You were often contrasted.

PR John has been dead for three years. And I slightly suspect that were he alive he would be sitting here in this chair [picking up the International Booker Prize], not me. He was a great American master, surely the greatest man of letters of his period in the second half of the 20th century. He was a brilliant writer. He could write any kind sentence imaginable. You just asked and he would give it to you. His two great books to my mind, although he wrote quite a few great books, are the last two Rabbit books: Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest. He is free as a bird. He can go anywhere. He can do any kind of comedy. Any kind of description. He was always free but in those two books he is the freest he’ll ever be