- Meet the Author
Sven Birkerts was initially hesitant when I approached him with the possibility of conducting this interview. He didn't want to be on the volleying end of twenty questions about his hometown, his childhood or whether he writes in pen or pencil. Rather, he would consent only if the two of us entered into a conversation, a dialogue, about literature and its place in a world that wants to leave it behind. This struck me as a good idea, and what I found during the course of our conversation is that Birkerts is full of good ideas.
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Our discussion began in the offices of AGNI, at Boston University, and continued on the telephone and by e-mail. Writers and thinkers can be an ornery lot, and I wish for the sake of drama that I could say Birkerts and I bumped heads over an issue or two, but we did not. He was never less than gracious, even when my youthful exuberance threatened to take our dialogue in a dozen wrong directions. Although we part ways when it comes to the value of certain American novelists, Birkerts never pulls intellectual rank and browbeats another writer simply because that writer's aesthetic differs from his own.
Ours was an invigorating interaction, and one that served as a kind of classroom for me. Indeed, that was the reason I had approached him in the first place: I knew he had wisdom to impart aside from what is available in his books and essays. The engine of literature is this business we call living, and from our discussion of writers and the writing process came insights into the way we live in this world, into the frequent defeat and occasional paradoxical triumph of the creative spirit. Some of what is included in our discussion is not optimistic, but it is never less than astute.