The writer interview is such a compelling art form. When it’s done right, it not only provides readers with a unique glimpse into the inner life of those who have moved, titillated, enticed, touched, and gutted us, but it is also, often, instructive, thought-provoking, and a powerful insight into the creative process itself. Ramona Koval always does it right. Her interviews are lengthy, pithy, and full of insight – a kind of discourse that stands on its own. This is due, not only to the interviewees, which include some of the most lauded writers of the 21st Century, but partly because of the way in which Koval gets them to open up their lives. These interviews help illuminate the books they discuss and provide insights into characters and themes, but they also take a broader perspective, taking authors on a journey through their pet peeves, interests, political affiliations, through literary analysis and into the heart of the authors’ humanity, their private lives, and the way in which they create.
The twenty eight writers whose interviews were chosen for this book are, without exception, extremely well known and respected. Some were interviewed in their last years, such as Joseph Heller, Judith Wright, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, John Mortimer, and Harold Pinter. There is a bittersweet element to these interviews – the authors talking candidly, often with a strong sense of their impending end and of the need to say certain things in a public forum. Judith Wright in particular, provides a poignant interview, struggling with deafness and visual impairment through an interview that involved writing out questions in large letters on a whiteboard and then struggling with the responses and transcription. Nevertheless, the result for the reader is fluid and transcendent as Wright talks about the teaching of poetry, about her work and the way in which it has been positively and negatively used, the value of nature, emotion and why she stopped writing poetry.
Harold Pinter has two interviews, and they present as almost a continuation of a single discussion. He’s lucid and energetic in both interviews, talking particularly powerfully on the political abuse of language:
"I think what we’re talking about there is extraordinary, fundamental hypocrisy, and a misunderstanding of language altogether – or a distortion of language, or abuse of language—which is in itself extremely destructive, because language leads us, politically, it leads us into all sorts of fields." (184)