Performing the Literary Interview: How Writers Craft Their Public Selves

Performing the Literary Interview: How Writers Craft Their Public Selves

Performing the Literary Interview: How Writers Craft Their Public Selves

Performing the Literary Interview: How Writers Craft Their Public Selves


When authors are interviewed about their books or themselves, much more is going on than a simple conversation. The interview becomes a performance space for authorial orchestration and self-promotion, and interviewers in turn respond to such self-display and theatrics. Featuring absorbing conversations with nine well-known authors, including poets Richard Howard and Gerald Stern, novelist Isabel Allende, and scholar-intellectual Camille Paglia, Performing the Literary Interview is the first in-depth look at this type of performance art. Interviews with poets, fiction writers, and intellectuals enable John Rodden to identify a range of rhetorical strategies and their effects and to formulate a typology for appreciating the various roles that interviewers and interviewees assume. Traditionalists foreground their work rather than themselves, raconteurs are storytellers who skillfully spin anecdotes and creatively showcase their personalities, and advertisers more explicitly use the literary interview to promote and sell themselves. This pioneering, persuasive study stakes a claim to a new area of scholarly inquiry in the humanities. The literary interview can no longer be considered only as a voyeuristic window on an author, or a celebrity vehicle, or even an entertaining diversion, but should also be approached as a serious genre meriting scholarly attention and analysis.


Is the interview a distinctive genre of literary performance?

In two words: Not yet. This collection seeks, however, not only to showcase a variety of interesting personalities, but also to suggest that the interview itself is an emerging genre worthy of serious attention by literary and performance scholars. This volume focuses first on the relation between the personae and the literary personalities of the authors, and secondarily on authorial biography and how interviewees' lives relate to their thematic preoccupations and to their self—and public—images.

Unlike the interviews found in most collections, therefore, these interviews are little concerned with literary craft in the traditional sense, but rather with the rhetorical craft of artistic self-fashioning through the form of the literary interview. Ultimately, any analysis of the interview as an act of selfinvention entails attention variously to the psychology of authorship, to autobiography as a mode of literary performance, and to the shaping linguistic patterns and relationships (dialogue/monologue, speaker/listener, etc.) in the interview as a rhetorical act.

To illuminate these issues, I have sought, whenever the interviewee has cooperated, to gain some sense of what one critic calls “the person of the writer” and “the inner life that surrounds and informs the writing.” Read in light of the issues spotlighted in this introduction, therefore, this collection of interviews can both sharpen the scholar-critic's awareness of the autobiographical aspects of the author's art and meet the general reader's desire to know the man or woman behind the literary characters. As such, these public conversations constitute, however informally, part of what the novelist George Garrett has called “the scholarship of experience.”

My larger goal is, then, to explore via a diversity of interview subjects the interrelationship between authorial character, as manifested in literary works, and the personae and personalities of writers. Perhaps ironically, this has sometimes meant attending not so much to the personality, but to the “impersonality,” in T. S. Eliot's formulation, of an author's personae.

To view the interview as an “emerging” genre means to see it as a literary form in the process of being born as a full-fledged type with recognizable— and widely recognized—distinctive and identifiable subtypes. At present, the main generic constituents, indeed the very status, of the interview form are . . .

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