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If you like Gore Vidal's story, you might also like:
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Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal
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Gore Vidal Interview (page: 7 / 8)

National Book Award

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  Gore Vidal

Is it true that you never went to college?

Gore Vidal: No, I didn't.

When I graduated from Exeter, I went straight into the Army. That was 1943, but I had already passed the college board to go to Harvard. So I had a choice when my first book was coming out. I was getting out of the Army in '46. Would I go to Harvard, where most of my classmates who had survived the war were going? And I said, "No. I have been in institutions all my life. Why go to another one, having just got rid of the Army?" I've always had nice relations with Harvard, and all of my archives are there, manuscripts, and so forth. So as I always say, "I myself did not go to Harvard, but I sent my work there," where they have been very good about cataloguing.

You have a long list of published works in many genres. Of your own work, what do you value most?

Gore Vidal: I like the inventions, as I call them, like Myra Breckinridge, Duluth. These are totally invented universes. Anybody can describe Abraham Lincoln's life, but not many people can invent my Duluth, which I had to move, you know, from the northern part of the country. I put it a little too close to New Orleans. I don't know what shape my Duluth is in now. It may be a bit wet, but I moved it down there. I have a group of enraged Hispanics, called the Aztec Terrorists, that were trying to take over the town, and I have got two lady writers. One of them cannot spell, and reads with great difficulty, but she is very, very famous. She has won the Wurlitzer prize. There was a rather good young novelist, or he used to be young, when I knew of him, Wurlitzer. She keeps repeating it, because it sounds like Pulitzer, which didn't come her way. It's about irreality. Everything changes. Once you think you understand what a situation is, it proves not to be the case, it's something else. There is a spaceship in it, filled with giant cockroaches, and everybody is bored by it. Nobody wants to even open the thing. They just say it is going to be boring, so the spaceship sits there through most of the book, and it plays a part at the end. Not living up to expectations is a nice thing to do in prose.

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Gore Vidal Interview Photo
How do you measure achievement?

Gore Vidal: Never bother.

Let me put it another way. What gives you your greatest sense of satisfaction?

Gore Vidal: I think live audiences. I might have been an actor at one point, except I couldn't learn lines. I did a play on Broadway, Trumbo, which was reading letters basically. It's a two character piece. It's live audiences that turn me on. I was discussing it with Senator Wheeldon. He was an Australian politician who's just died. He was a leading labor politician in Australia, he was in Whitlam's cabinet, and he had been a great criminal lawyer. We were talking about the greatest moments in our lives. They did not include romance, sex, beauty, art, truth or wisdom. It was interacting with an audience. He said he had a definite murderer that he got off. An entire jury voted the way he wanted them to, and this terrible villain was freed. I said, "You mustn't be too proud of that." He said, "It's art. It was the art of defense. I am a criminal lawyer." He asked me what was my greatest moment. I said...

It was '72, and Nixon had just beaten McGovern, and I was lecturing at this big, old 19th century building in Boston. Something Hall, not Faneuil. It's a big red brick 19th century building. Jordan Hall! I was opening a season. There were about four galleries, it was packed. I had a new speech, which is always awful to give and I ended up having to read it, which is even worse. So it was getting pretty depressing, but when I came to questions and answers, it got very lively. Elaine Nobel, who later became the first lesbian assembly woman in Massachusetts, she was in the gallery. I didn't know who she was. She was just in the gallery, we met later. She asked me, "How do you explain that Massachusetts is the only state that voted against Nixon in the last election?" I said, "Well, I can flatter you by saying this is the Athens of America." Dutiful applause. I said, "I am not going to do that. I think I should remind you that since the beginning of the Republic, Massachusetts has been the most corrupt state in the Union, and you know a crook when you see one." Well, the eruption of applause, it was like a tsunami hitting you. It pushed me about two feet back of the lectern. I have never felt anything quite like that.

Anyway, that's how I one-upped Senator Wheeldon, savior of murderers.

Do you have an audience in mind when you are writing?

Gore Vidal: No. How could you if you don't know who anybody is or where they are?

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This page last revised on Apr 04, 2011 09:00 EDT
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