- Reviewed by
Wolfe scholars Magi and Walser have brought together in this volume twenty-five Wolfe interviews covering the period from shortly after the publication of Look Homeward, Angel until just before his death when Wolfe was on his travels in the Northwest. His impressions of the trip would later appear in A Western Journal.
The information in the reviews is not news. But assembled as they are chronologically, they lead one through a capsulized lifetime of the public Wolfe disseminating his ideas and feelings with passion. One is reminded again of his many statements on the use of autobiography in fiction, his insistance that writing is hard work, his choice of reading, his reflections on his common, solid roots in the South, his observations of Europe, his anticipation of the places and people he was certain he would yet visit, and his ongoing love affair with America.
Some memorable passages from the interviews:
To me the characters in my book were real people, full-blooded, rich and interesting; they were pioneers of the sort which has built this country, and I love them.
Europe is good and beautiful, but America is grander and more beautiful. And out of America is going to come some real art, great art, in literature and in music and in sculpture.
Writing is a business just the same as any other vocation. . . . You have to use what you've got; you can't use what you haven't got. My father got calluses on his hands from his occupation of stone cutting, and I get calluses on my hand from writing with a pencil.
I worked at night because the night-time has always excited me. Night-time awakens a more alert chemistry in me. The United States is a sort of night-time country.
The editors have done a fine job of placing the interviews in context. The headnotes and end pieces for each interview reveal persistent efforts to dig out facts concerning Wolfe's involvement with writing and living at the time of each specific interview. In addition, they provide pertinent information about each of the interviewers.
This collection furnishes another welcome addition to the biography of one of America's most autobiographical of twentieth-century novelists. Many have said that Wolfe's fiction is his autobiography. However, there are important differences. He drew upon his life for his fiction, but he created composite characters, telescoped events, drew caricatures, satirized. In short, he transformed fact into fiction.
It is interesting that Wolfe never fancied himself a speaker. He insisted that his art was writing, not talking. When excited, he even stuttered a bit. And when reminded of this before he was to give his talk at the Purdue University Literary Awards Banquet in May, 1938, he smiled and responded, "I can do a lot of [End Page 618] stuttering for $300," the fee he was to receive for his presentation. He did talk torrents on that day in May, as he did a few years earlier at the Boulder, Colorado, Writer's Conference. The latter was published as The Story of a Novel, the former as Writing and Living. Magi and Walser include interviews commemorating both events.
Years later the two statements by this writer on his craft were edited and brought together as The Autobiography of an American Novelist. Wolfe's revelations in the Autobiography, his collected letters, his notebooks, and now the interviews offer a variety of biographical material that should be useful for Wolfe students and specialists.