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AN INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM MAXWELL William Maxwell© Brookie Maxwell William Maxwell is the author of six novels and five collections of short fiction , most recently All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories, pubUshed in 1994. His 1980 novel, So Long, See You Tomorrow, won the American Book Award. He is also the author of a family history, Ancestors. Maxwell was born in Lincoln, Illinois where he lived until the age of 14, when his family moved to Chicago. After graduating from the University of Illinois and a brief stint in graduate school, Maxwell went to New York to seek his fortune as a fiction editor and occasional essay reviewer. The writers he edited include J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, John O'Hara, Harold Brodkey, and Delmore Schwartz. This is the second installment of an interview conducted by Kay Bonetti in November 1995 for the American Audio Prose Library, which has recordings of readings by and interviews with 131 contemporary writers. The first part of this interview appeared in the most recent issue (Volume XIX, Number 1) of The Missouri Review. For more information about AAPL listings, write P.O. Box 842, Columbia, MO, 65205, or call 800-447-2275. An Interview with William Maxwell/Kay Bonetti Interviewer: You've said you learned from E.B. White that the "I" should always be a real character in any piece that you've written. Have you ever had a sense Ui your writing life that you were flying in the face of current convention, or being old-fashioned, by adhering to that principle? Maxwell: I never worried about being old-fashioned because the books I've continued to read all my life have been the Russians. I wanted to write about people, men and women. What's old-fashioned about men and women? They arejust as they are. E.B. White taught me to use the "I" unself-consciously. The thing about White is, he is essentially an egoist—not an egotist, but an egoist. He has to start from himself as the center of his observations. But that self is never tiresome, usually amusing, always likable, always acceptable. I remember when I was younger, trying to write stories in the fii$t person, or even novels . They went on and on and on, and were so garrulous. I couldn't somehow rein them in because I hadn't discovered how to treat myself Ui a way that wasn't the total interior life. The answer is to treat oneself as an outside person, as a character, who therefore is manageable. And also not the center of the action and of attention, but somewhat on the side, visible and sometimes an actor, but only momentarily. To find a place for you that is very much Uke the place you must find Ui social life, where you are not tiresome, but agreeable socially. Give other people a chance to talk, too. When I could finally use the first person I was happy, but it was like venturing into cold water. Interviewen There's a strong streak in your work of the disparity between the inner self and the outer self. Are you saying that in using yourself as a narrator and a persona, that this is the sort of thing you're also doing fictionally to deal with the material? Maxwell: We're all so many selves, a whole cast of characters. Now The Missouri Review · 85 Tm one person, now Tm another. There's a committee, and somebody is in charge of the committee. That's the person that the outside world knows. But the interior life is more or less bedlam. Interviewen It sounds like Ui the writing process if you're going to insert yourself as the "I" of the piece, you're creating that same duet, or dialogue. Maxwell: You have to create something that somebody would recognize as a person. But not the whole person Ui the sense that you get from Joyce, or Virginia Woolf. Interviewer: You've spoken and written of having been in analysis. With respect to the work, you can certainly see, in So Long, See You Tomorrow and They Came Like Swallows...


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