Sad news of Australian biographer Hazel Rowley’s untimely death this week at the age of 59. Rowley wrote “Tete-a-Tete: The Tumultous Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre,” “Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage,” and biographies of Australian novelist Christina Stead and American writer Richard Wright. She knew how to tell a good story, meticulously documented her research, and was a guest on a number of talk show programs, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s The Book Show.
In one interview on The Book Show, Rowley memorably said she preferred her biographical subjects dead (note that dead people can’t bring actions for libel). Those interested in biography and copyright law should read her article in the winter 2009 issue of The American Scholar on French publishing law and how it affected the publication of her biography of Sartre and Beauvoir in France.
In the meantime, check out communications researcher R.C. Richards‘s Droit Blog, on which he provides thoughts on law, music, politics, business, and other matters. In a lengthy post on August 5, 2010, “Selective Retraction of Inaccurate Statements About Public Figures: A Case Study,” Richards examines a political post on Twitter containing multiple inaccurate statements as a case study in political communication. Richards’s measured and scholarly tone is a refreshing contrast to the brainless shouting and personal attacks that abound nowadays as purported political discussions and debates.
Dwight Garner reports in The New York Times that The Paris Review has now made ALL of its interviews with authors available on line. This is wonderful news for anyone who loves reading, writing, or finding out as much as possible about writers’ lives and working habits.
The Paris Review is, along with The New Yorker and Granta, the gold standard for literary magazines. Harold L. Humes, Peter Matthiessen, and George Plimpton founded it in Paris in 1953, and its roster of contributors is impressive indeed. Each issue has carried at least one, and sometimes two, interviews with writers. The ones I’ve read are always prefaced by some background on the circumstances and surroundings of the interview. The interviewers always ask good questions and you get a good sense of the author’s personality and state of mind at the time of the interview. In fact, they’re really good stories that give the reader additional insight into the author’s works.
The archive includes interviews with Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy. Never one to mince words, McCarthy tossed off a pithy insult about Hellman on The Dick Cavett Show in 1980, saying “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” The lawsuit that Hellman then filed made most of the rest of McCarthy’s life miserable. As a lawyer, having seen litigation up close and personal, I can’t imagine that her lawsuit against McCarthy made Hellman herself happy for the five remaining years of her life. It certainly didn’t do anything positive for her enduring reputation.
What do you think makes an interview a good story that you enjoy reading? Are there other magazines that I should have included in my “gold standard” of literary journals?