Posted on December 10, 2013
This conversation between George Plimpton and William Styron, part of a collaboration between 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center and The Paris Review, was recorded live at 92Y on December 8, 1997. We are able to share this recording thanks to a generous gift in memory of Christopher Lightfoot Walker, longtime friend of the Poetry Center and The Paris Review. Here is an excerpt from the full interview that ran in The Paris Review as The Art of Fiction No. 156 in the spring of 1999.
Are you worried about the future of the written word?
Not really. I get moments of alarm. Not long ago I received in the mail a doctoral thesis entitled “Sophie’s Choice: A Jungian Perspective,” which I sat down to read. It was quite a long document. In the first paragraph it said, In this thesis my point of reference throughout will be the Alan J. Pakula movie of Sophie’s Choice. There was a footnote, which I swear to you said, Where the movie is obscure I will refer to William Styron’s novel for clarification. This idiocy laid a pall over my life for a dark brief time because it brought back all these bugaboos we have about the written word. But in the nineteenth century they said that the railroads were going to jeopardize the written word; in the 1920s they said that the appearance of sound movies was guaranteed to drive novels into purdah; then later, television. All of these means of communication have existed happily side by side and parallel with writing. I don’t think for a minute that literature is going to perish. Marshall McLuhan’s prophecy of forty years ago simply didn’t pan out. Even the Internet and the idea of the electronic book reinforces my belief—they will not threaten the written word but actually complement writing, and perhaps even ultimately enhance it.
Christopher Lightfoot Walker (1954-2012) served as poster director, prints director and advisory editor of The Paris Review. He also volunteered at the 92nd Street Y's Unterberg Poetry Center, making transcriptions, which were models of their kind, of audio recordings of live literary events. Chris was born in New York City, attended the Buckley School, then went west to Fountain Valley School and back east to Hampshire College. He was engaged in a number of entrepreneurial efforts (some in collaboration with his father, Angus Lightfoot Walker, longtime chairman of the City Investing Company), when, at the age of 31, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He wore his adversity lightly, retaining, in addition to his considerable wits, his sense of humor and sense of fun. Against the odds he remained a person on whom no delightful thing was ever lost. Chris was always grateful for the refuge he was able to find in the work provided by 92Y.
This post is part of 92Y/The Paris Review: Interview Series.