Larry McMurtry on Why Writers Shouldn’t Be Interviewed: Some, After All, Are Professional Liars

Larry McMurtry when he won a National Humanities Medal in 2014.

From a Larry McMurtry review of the book Kite-Flying and Other Irrational Acts: Conversations with Twelve Southern Writers.

One of the more debatable assumptions upon which the literary interview rests is that the artist is likely to reveal something of value about the process or the intent of his art. Whether or not anything accurate is revealed is highly speculative.

John Barth observed that when writers are working they are like athletes, creatures in motion, operating from highly trained and often very subtle instincts. They may be able, later, to talk very intelligently of why they did what they did, but it is an explanation arrived at after the fact and it may be more ingenious than accurate.

Also, one must consider that literary artists are, after all, professional liars. Lies and inventions are the essence of their work, and for an interviewer or anyone to expect them to be able to turn the invention off and deal easily with sober truth is expecting them to be able to switch natures—an expectation which needs a high degree of naivete.

On Southern Writers

One of the reasons the South has produced an exceptional literature is that it is a region that contains exceptional potential for personal drama. There is, of course, the constant racial drama, and the drama, more evident in the South than anywhere, between the claims of the present and the claims of the past.

One has only to know two Southern writers to know that the need for personal drama is in a sense their native drug—it is a habit they can’t kick and if it doesn’t lie easily at hand, they will usually manufacture it, both on and off the page.

FYI, this book review was written for a newspaper—I saved a copy of the review but unfortunately neglected to note the name of the newspaper or the date. I’d guess the Washington Star in 1974.

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