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AN INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM GASS William Gass An Interview with William Gass / Lorna H. Domke Interviewer: I've read that you decided to become a writer at an early age. Gass: My parents say that I made the announcement to be a writer about age eight. They say I made that announcement after giving up being a fireman, and it sounded to them about the same. I never changed my mind. I have no idea why. There's nothing in my background—my parents were teachers. My mother taught briefly before she got married, and then she was a mother the way people used to be. My father was an architect, but he had injuries during World War I which made it impossible for him to work over a drafting board, so he taught mechanical drawing in high school. Interviewer: Did you write in college? Gass: When I was at Kenyon, there were some very splendid people in English, John Crowe Ransom in particular, whom I admired very much. I sat in on some of his classes, but I never took them—I did take some later in graduate school. But I was such a smart ass; I didn't think they could teach me anything then about literature, and I hated the way everybody else talked about it. Writing courses were not popular then, the way they are now, but I don't think I would have taken them anyway, because I had developed fairly early a dislike for criticism while a piece was in progress. This dislike is still so severe that I don't show my work to anybody. Once it's out in print, what people say is of relatively little concern to me. Avoiding such classes in college was partly a desire to pretend I knew everything and partly a realization that I wrote very badly. Interviewer: What sort of things did you write before your first published short story, "The Pedersen Kid?" The Missouri Review · 53 Gass: I wrote a lot of stuff during high school, and enormous amounts of junk of various kinds while I was overseas during World War II. Before I had my Ph.D., from Cornell, I was teaching. I decided to finish my Ph.D. and also to start writing stories, which I had set aside while I tried to get through philosophy. I learned to write as an adult while writing "The Pederson Kid." I gave myself a lot of arbitrary rules during that story such as limited intelligence, cut down vocabulary, and certain kinds of sentence shapes. Then a plot evolved. That gave me a frame, it disciplined the material for me. Before that, I never knew where I was going, and I just wandered around. The overwriting was astonishing. Still, of course, a fault. I was reading a lot of Gertrude Stein then, too. She knew what a sentence was, so I studied her a great deal. Interviewer: What happened to that first story? Gass: I tried to publish it for years before John Gardner used it in MSS, a magazine he published at Binghamton, N.Y. Interviewer: Did the debates you later had with Gardner push you further into taking certain positions about fiction? Gass: Sure. It was like a kitchen argument. Three a.m. and everybody is drunk, getting more extreme and more extreme. It's fun. It didn't matter to me very much and that's what bothered John, because it did matter a whole lot to him. For him it was something very fundamental, basic. So he kept bringing it up. These debates were entirely instigated by his public remarks about other writers and myself. But I liked him very much. We never got a chance to be together long enough to be friends, but we would have, had we had more time together. He had great energy and generosity and spirit, 54 · The Missouri Review William Gass "I tend to be in love with imagery." actually. Although On Moral Fiction didn't show much of the generosity, he had it. Interviewer: You've said that you want readers to feel the way they feel when they listen properly to music...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 51-67
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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