Seven Questions for Anne Fadiman
Here are seven questions that I’d like to ask Anne Fadiman, author of the wonderful book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, when she speaks on campus:
In your book Rereadings, you remarked that the first time one reads a book, she does it with more velocity; the second time, she does it with more depth.
Coming back and rereading The Spirit Catches You more than 10 years after you wrote it, do you feel as if you understand it better now? Is there anything you would do differently? Are there parts or aspects of the book of which you are especially proud — that make you think, “Anne, well done!”?
In your essay “The Joy of Sesquipedalians,” you said that you were thrilled by the writing of Carl Van Vechten, who tossed off unfamiliar words and classical-literature references with the same ease that some of us can recite details of the latest “Gossip Girl” TV episode. In particular, you wrote that:
What simultaneously thrilled me and made me feel most like a dunce was Van Vechten’s vocabulary. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d met so many words I didn’t know.
In writing, it seems like we have conflicting goals. On one side, there are beauty and depth. On the other side, there are clarity and communication. Based on your description, Van Vechten’s writing seems to succeed at the former but fail at the latter. How can we balance those goals, or should we even try?
In your essay “The His’er Problem,” you told how at age 19 you met William Shawn and got a summer job at The New Yorker. Today, print magazines are shrinking or disappearing, and the Web doesn’t yet seem a reliable way to launch a writing career as opposed to a hobby. Do you have any advice for young writers who want to follow in your footsteps?
By the way, I adored your description of the meeting with Mr. Shawn:
“I considered The New Yorker a cathedral and Mr. Shawn a figure so godlike that I expected a faint nimbus to emanate from his ruddy head.”
From your essay “Marrying Libraries,” we know that you like William Butler Yeats. Who are some other poets you like, and why? What about contemporary poets?
Do you think that reading and writing poetry helps us develop a good writing style? Are there any poets whom you especially recommend for young writers?
In your essay “Procrustes and the Culture Wars,” you applied the metaphor of the Procrustean bed to four questions about how to evaluate literature. Do you think that metaphor applies more widely, to issues such as economic justice, gay marriage, health care reform, and even to having a woman or African-American as president? If so, how?
Your book The Spirit Catches You is filled with ideas about life, destiny, choice, and forgiveness. As the author, what lessons would you most like us to learn from it?
Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.