Literary Conversations Series

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

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Conversations with Andre Dubus

Olivia Carr Edenfield

Over three decades, celebrated fiction writer Andre Dubus (1936-1999) published seven collections of short stories, two collections of essays, two collections of previously published stories, two novels, and a novella. While this is an impressive publishing record for any writer, for Dubus, who suffered a near-fatal accident mid-career, it is near miraculous. Just after midnight on July 23, 1986, after stopping to assist two stranded motorists, Dubus was struck by a car. His right leg was crushed and his left leg had to be amputated above the knee. After months of hospital stays and surgeries, he would suffer chronic pain for the rest of his life. However, when he gave his first interview after the accident, his deepest fear was that he would never write again.

This collection of interviews traces his career beginning in 1967 with the publication of his novel The Lieutenant, to his final interview given right before his death February 24, 1999. In between are conversations that focus on his shift to essay writing during his long recovery period as well as those that celebrate his return to fiction with the publication of "The Colonel's Wife," in 1993. Dubus would share as well stories surrounding his Louisiana childhood, his three marriages, the writers who influenced him, and his deep Catholic faith.

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Conversations with David Foster Wallace

Stephen J. Burn

Across two decades of intense creativity, David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) crafted a remarkable body of work that ranged from unclassifiable essays, to a book about transfinite mathematics, to vertiginous fictions. Whether through essay volumes (A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Consider the Lobster), short story collections (Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion), or his novels (Infinite Jest, The Broom of the System), the luminous qualities of Wallace's work recalibrated our measures of modern literary achievement. Conversations with David Foster Wallace gathers twenty-two interviews and profiles that trace the arc of Wallace's career, shedding light on his omnivorous talent.

Jonathan Franzen has argued that, for Wallace, an interview provided a formal enclosure in which the writer "could safely draw on his enormous native store of kindness and wisdom and expertise." Wallace's interviews create a wormhole in which an author's private theorizing about art spill into the public record. Wallace's best interviews are vital extra-literary documents, in which we catch him thinking aloud about his signature concerns--irony's magnetic hold on contemporary language, the pale last days of postmodernism, the delicate exchange that exists between reader and writer. At the same time, his acute focus moves across MFA programs, his negotiations with religious belief, the role of footnotes in his writing, and his multifaceted conception of his work's architecture. Conversations with David Foster Wallace includes a previously unpublished interview from 2005, and a version of Larry McCaffery's influential Review of Contemporary Fiction interview with Wallace that has been expanded with new material drawn from the original raw transcript.

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Conversations with Dorothy Allison

Mae Miller Claxton

Since the publication of her groundbreaking novel, Bastard Out of Carolina (1992), Dorothy Allison (b. 1949) has been known--as with Larry Brown and Lee Smith--as a purveyor of the "gritty" contemporary South that, in many ways, is worlds away from prevailing "Southern Gothic" representations of the region. Allison has frequently used her position, through passionate lectures and enthusiastic interviews, to give voice to issues dear to her: poverty, working-class life, domestic violence, feminism and women's relationships, the contemporary South, and gay/lesbian life. Often called a "writer-rock star" and a "cult icon," Allison is a true performer of the written word.

At the same time, Allison also takes the craft of writing very seriously. In this collection, spanning almost two decades, Allison the performer and Allison the careful craftsperson both emerge, creating a portrait of a complex woman. The interviews detail Allison's working-class background in Greenville, South Carolina, as the daughter of a waitress. Allison discusses--with candor and quick wit--her upbringing, her work in a variety of modes (novels, short stories, essays, poetry), and her active participation in the women's movement of the 1970s.

In the absence of a biography of Allison's life, Conversations with Dorothy Allison presents Allison's perspectives on her life, literature, and her conflictions over her role as a public figure. Linking her work with African American writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison, Allison pioneered the genre of working-class literature, writing a world that is often overlooked and under-studied.

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Conversations with Edna O'Brien

Alice Hughes Kersnowski

"Who's Afraid of Edna O'Brien?" asks an early interviewer in Conversations with Edna O'Brien. With over fifty years of published novels, biographies, plays, telecasts, short stories, and more, it is hard not to be intimidated by her. An acclaimed and controversial Irish writer, O'Brien (b. 1932) saw her early works, starting in 1960 with The Country Girls, banned and burned in Ireland, but often read in secret. Her contemporary work continues to spark debates on the rigors and challenges of Catholic conservatism and the struggle for women to make a place for themselves in the world without anxiety and guilt. The raw nerve of emotion at the heart of her lyrical prose provokes readers, challenges politicians, and proves difficult for critics to place her.

In these interviews, O'Brien finds her own critical voice and moves interviewers away from a focus on her life as the "once infamous Edna" toward a focus on her works. Parallels between Edna O'Brien and her literary muse and mentor, James Joyce, are often cited in interviews such as Phillip Roth's description of The Country Girls as "rural Dubliners." While Joyce is the centerpiece of O'Brien's literary pantheon, allusions to writers such as Shakespeare, Chekhov, Beckett, and Woolf become a medium for her critical voice. Conversations with contemporary writers Phillip Roth and Glenn Patterson reveal Edna O'Brien's sense of herself as a contemporary writer. The final interview included here, with BBC personality William Crawley at Queen's University, Belfast, is a synthesis of her acceptance and fame as an Irish writer and an Irish woman and an affirmation of her literary authority.

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Conversations with Greil Marcus

Joe Bonomo

Greil Marcus once said to an interviewer, "There is an infinite amount of meaning about anything, and I free associate." For more than four decades, Marcus has explored the connections among figures, sounds, and events in culture, relating unrelated points of departure, mapping alternate histories and surprising correspondences. He is a unique and influential voice in American letters.

Marcus was born in 1945 in San Francisco. In 1968 he published his first piece, a review of Magic Bus: The Who on Tour, in Rolling Stone, where he became the magazine's first records editor. Renowned for his ongoing "Real Life Top Ten" column, Marcus has been a writer for a number of magazines and websites, and is the author and editor of over fifteen books. His critique is egalitarian: no figure, object, or event is too high, low, celebrated, or obscure for an inquiry into the ways in which our lives can open outward, often unexpectedly.

In Conversations with Greil Marcus, Marcus discuses in lively, wide-ranging interviews his books and columns as well as his critical methodology and broad approach to his material, signaled by a generosity of spirit leavened with aggressive critical standards.

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Conversations with James Ellroy

Steven Powell

As a novelist who has spent years crafting and refining his intense and oft outrageous "Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction" persona, James Ellroy has used interviews as a means of shaping narratives outside of his novels. Conversations with James Ellroy covers a series of interviews given by Ellroy from 1984 to 2010, in which Ellroy discusses his literary contribution and his public and private image.

Born Lee Earle Ellroy in 1948, James Ellroy is one of the most critically acclaimed and controversial contemporary writers of crime and historical fiction. Ellroy's complex narratives, which merge history and fiction, have pushed the boundaries of the crime fiction genre: American Tabloid, a revisionist look at the Kennedy era, was Time magazine's Novel of the Year 1995, and his novels L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia were adapted into films. Much of Ellroy's remarkable life story has served as the template for the personal obsessions that dominate his writing. From the brutal, unsolved murder of his mother, to his descent into alcohol and drug abuse, his sexual voyeurism, and his stints at the Los Angeles County Jail, Ellroy has lived through a series of hellish experiences that few other writers could claim.

In Conversations with James Ellroy, Ellroy talks extensively about his life, his literary influences, his persona, and his attitudes towards politics and religion. In interviews with fellow crime writers Craig McDonald, David Peace, and others, including several previously unpublished interviews, Ellroy is at turns charismatic and eloquent, combative and enigmatic.

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Conversations with Jonathan Lethem

Jaime Clarke

Conversations with Jonathan Lethem collects fourteen interviews, conducted over a decade and a half, with the Brooklyn-born author of such novels as Girl in Landscape, Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, Chronic City, and many others. Winner of the National Book Critics' Circle Award, Lethem (b. 1964) covers a wide range of subjects, from what it means to incorporate genre into literature, to the impact of the death of his mother on his life and work, to his being a permanent "sophomore on leave" from Bennington College, as well as his flight from Brooklyn to California and its lasting effect on his fiction. Lethem also reveals the many literary and pop culture influences that have informed his writing life.

Readers will find Lethem as charming and generous and intelligent as his work. His examination of what it means to live a creative life will reverberate and enlighten scholars and fans alike. His thoughts on science fiction, intellectual property, literary realism, genre, movies, and rock 'n' roll are articulated with elán throughout the collection, as are his comments on his own development as a craftsman.

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Conversations with Ken Kesey

Scott F. Parker

Ken Kesey (1935-2001) is the author of several works of well-known fiction and other hard-to-classify material. His debut novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, was a critical and commercial sensation that was followed soon after by his most substantial and ambitious book, Sometimes a Great Notion. His other books, including Demon Box, Sailor Song, and two children's books, appeared amidst a life of astounding influence. He is maybe best known for his role as the charismatic and proto-hippie leader of the West Coast LSD movement that sparked "The Sixties," as iconically recounted in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

In the introduction to "An Impolite Interview with Ken Kesey," Paul Krassner writes, "For a man who says he doesn't like to do interviews, Kesey certainly does a lot of them." What's most surprising about this statement is not the incongruity between disliking and doing interviews but the idea that Kesey could possibly have been less than enthusiastic about being the center of attention. After his two great triumphs, writing played a lesser role in Kesey's life, but in thoughtful interviews he sometimes regrets the books that were sacrificed for the sake of his other pursuits. Interviews trace his arc through success, fame, prison, farming, and tragedy--the death of his son in a car accident profoundly altered his life. These conversations make clear Kesey's central place in American culture and offer his enduring lesson that the freedom exists to create lives as wildly as can be imagined.

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Conversations with Natasha Trethewey

Joan Wylie Hall

United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey (b. 1966) describes her mode as elegiac. Although the loss of her murdered mother informs each book, Trethewey's range of forms and subjects is wide. In compact sonnets, elegant villanelles, ballad stanzas, and free verse, she creates monuments to mixed-race children of colonial Mexico, African American soldiers from the Civil War, a beautiful prostitute in 1910 New Orleans, and domestic workers from the twentieth-century North and South.

Because her white father and her black mother could not marry legally in Mississippi, Trethewey says she was "given" her subject matter as "the daughter of miscegenation." A sense of psychological exile is evident from her first collection, Domestic Work (2000), to the recent Thrall (2012). Biracial people of the Americas are a major focus of her poetry and her prose book Beyond Katrina, a meditation on family, community, and the natural environment of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The interviews featured within Conversations with Natasha Trethewey provide intriguing artistic and biographical insights into her work. The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet cites diverse influences, from Anne Frank to Seamus Heaney. She emotionally acknowledges Rita Dove's large impact, and she boldly positions herself in the southern literary tradition of Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren. Commenting on "Pastoral," "South," and other poems, Trethewey guides readers to deeper perception and empathy.

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Conversations with Paul Auster

James M. Hutchisson

Paul Auster (b. 1947) is one of the most critically acclaimed and intensely studied authors in America today. His varied career as a novelist, poet, translator, and filmmaker has attracted scholarly scrutiny from a variety of critical perspectives. The steadily rising arc of his large readership has made him something of a popular culture figure with many appearances in print interviews, as well as on television, the radio, and the internet. Auster's best known novel may be his first, City of Glass (1985), a grim and intellectually puzzling mystery that belies its surface image as a "detective novel" and goes on to become a profound meditation on transience and mortality, the inadequacies of language, and isolation. Fifteen more novels have followed since then, including The Music of Chance, Moon Palace, The Book of Illusions, and The Brooklyn Follies. He has, in the words of one critic, "given the phrase 'experimental fiction' a good name" by fashioning bona fide literary works with all the rigor and intellect demanded of the contemporary avant-garde.

This volume--the first of its kind on Auster--will be useful to both scholars and students for the penetrating self-analysis and the wide range of biographical information and critical commentary it contains. Conversations with Paul Auster covers all of Auster's oeuvre, from The New York Trilogy--of which City of Glass is a component--to Sunset Park (2010), along with his screenplays for Smoke (1995) and Blue in the Face (1996). Within, Auster nimbly discusses his poetry, memoir, nonfiction, translations, and film directing.

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