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John Updike

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction

D.H. Lawrence talks about the purpose of a novel being to extend the reader's sympathy. And, it is true that upper middle class women can read happily about thugs, about coal miners, about low life, and to some extent they become better people for it because they are entering into these lives that they have never lived and wouldn't want to lead but nevertheless it is, I think, the sense of possibilities within life. The range of ways to live that in part explains a novel's value. I mean, in this day and age, so late really in the life of the genre, why do some of us keep writing them and some of us keep reading them? And I think it is, in part, because of that, that it makes you more human. It's like meeting people at a cocktail party that you had never met and wouldn't have cared to meet. You wouldn't have gone out of your way to meet, but suddenly they become real to you. You understand to some extent.
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John Updike

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction

The fiction that I'm proudest of, insofar as one can discriminate, is that where I have made some leap. I'm best known and been most rewarded really, prize-wise and praise-wise, for the Rabbit books. And Rabbit is -- he and I share roughly the same age and the same -- born in the same place, but I've long left Berks County. He stayed there, and it's a kind of me that I'm not. I never was a basketball star. I wasn't handsome the way he is, and nor did I have to undergo the temptations of being an early success that way, so that for me it was a bit of a stretch. Not an immense stretch to imagine what it's like to be Rabbit, but enough of one that it was entertaining for me to write about him, and maybe some of the self-entertainment got into the book. In other words, you can kind of walk around. I can kind of walk around Rabbit in a way it's hard to walk around, say, the autobiographical hero of some of your short stories, where it's your twin, you know, and you're attached. It's the idea of breaking that attachment, I think, that matters and where the fiction really begins to take off when you can get somebody else in your sights.
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Gore Vidal

National Book Award

I suspect at a very early age that one of the things I most disliked in the world was a dishonesty and hypocrisy. Since the United States is firmly based on both, I had a rich subject, my native land, and certain taboo subjects were obviously going to interest me. Why, of all the founding fathers, did I pick Aaron Burr to write a book about? Well, I thought it was time that his point of view was expressed, because he is very interesting about the founding of the country.
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Gore Vidal

National Book Award

I have lived in the world and taken part in many things outside myself. The problem with most American writers is they only write about themselves, and they're not very interesting. I don't care about why the marriage went wrong and why the author left his wife for the au pair girl when he did not get tenure at Ann Arbor, which really broke his heart. I mean these books should be written on Kleenex and disposed of. But everybody's been told in the United States that he is interesting. "You are a very interesting person. I can just tell!" or "My feelings are just as good as your feelings." Well, that is a fairly true statement, but what's a feeling? We all have feelings and most of them are not worth dealing with. It's what you know, it's what you think, and if you have the gift of invention, very rare may I say, it's what you make up.
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Gore Vidal

National Book Award

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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Bert Vogelstein

Cancer Researcher

When I was in college one of the things that one of my professors said, which only later I understood -- he was a math professor, and he was telling me that he started out in physics and he switched, and I asked him, "Why did you switch from physics? because it's a lot of fun?" And he said, "My insights into math were better." And I didn't really know what he meant because at that point I'd never had an insight into anything. But, now I know exactly what he meant. You have hunches. There's some gut feeling you have that something is right, or can be done, or is ripe for investigation.
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Bert Vogelstein

Cancer Researcher

The best thing, clearly, is that initial hunch, is that feeling you get often, at least for me, it's early in the morning. I'm lying in bed thinking and I think of something that to me at that time, seems really neat, some connection. And, nine times out of ten, after I get up and think about it and talk about it with my colleagues or my students, it turns out that it was the stupidest idea that anyone every had. But, that few minutes when you think of it, and you think that you really have come up with something that's important, that's a great feeling. And, the fact that they almost all turn out to be nothing, doesn't really matter. It was fun for the moment.
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