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AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN UPDIKE JOHN UPDIKE John Updike, one of America's most prolific and respected writers, has published novels, short stories, poetry, drama, essays and criticism. His latest novel is Gertrude and Claudius. Recently he edited Best American Short Stories of the Century with Katrina Kenison. This interview was conducted by Will Hochman and Jan Ellen Spiegel in Colorado Springs in late 1998. An Interview with John Updike/Will Hochman and Jan Ellen Spiegel Interviewer: Let's start by quoting from "Bech and the Bounty of Sweden": "? hate print interviews,'" Bech says. "'They take forever, they get you all relaxed and gabby, and then they crucify you writing down whatever they please. There's no evidence of what you really said except their tape, and they keep the tape.'" And you were quoted in an interview in Salon as having said, "Interviews are a form to be loathed; a half-form like maggots." Updike: Yes, I did say those things. For the reasons that I've given. You spend your life as a writer trying to present a kind of controlled version of reality, and in a print interview you've abandoned control. You never know what's going to come out. Often it's somewhat surprising. I've had interviews where I thought I was utterly charming to the interviewer , and then it came out like I was insufferable. You knock yourself out. It's work to try to think and talk. Print interviews do take longer than television interviews, and also the interviewer can probe deeper into your masks and your sensitive skin. So for that reason I don't court print interviews, but I have been known to give a few. Interviewer: The quantity of what you have turned out in the last forty years is staggering. Nearly fifty books, countless pieces of criticism. How do you do it? Updike: Maybe badly; that's why I'm able to do so many. But Tm a steady worker. I decided, even as an undergraduate, that if I was going to be a writer I didn't want to also try to teach. That is always the option for shy guys: they become teachers. My father was a teacher; my grandfather on my mother's side was a teacher. So there was teaching in the air. My aunt was a teacher. I made an effort to keep my life free, The Missouri Review ยท 83 to write first thing in the morning. And when you do that, the manuscript piles up. It's not as if I find writing especially easy. Some things are easier than others, but I'm struggling with a novel now that I might have to give up on. It might win the little wrestle. So it doesn't seem to me as though I've just poured the stuff out, though I admit that somebody young, coming now to my stack of books, would be dismayed by this monster of productivity. But what has it amounted to? About a book a year. Many of them fairly slim, many of them short-story collections. Interviewer: Do you write on a computer now? Updike: I do, mostly. Sometimes I resort to writing by hand and then typing it up myself. Poetry, needless to say, one generally writes by hand, and sometimes a novel; it's helpful to get into that silence of the pencil and the paper. But reviews, short stories, articles all tend to be done on an IBM, a PS 1, I think it's called. I was somewhat slow to come to it. I got my first computer in the mid-'80s. Once you've done it, though, it's hard to go back because of the ease with which you can correct copy and produce clean copy. To anybody who's suffered through all those years of whiting out and carbon copies and sending it out to typists who would produce their own set of mistakes, the computer magically does away with that. Maybe I have been able to up my productivity a bit. ^y you get a ten-page review on the computer, then ifs a fairly rapid set of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 81-96
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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