An Interview with Bernard Malamud

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Editor: Janet Witalec
Date: 2003
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay; Interview
Length: 4,364 words

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[(interview date 1975) In the following interview, conducted through an exchange of letters in 1973 and originally published in Bernard Malamud: A Collection of Critical Essays in 1975, Malamud discusses specific aspects of his writing, divorced from any biographical influence.]

The following commentary and summary from an exchange of letters between Mr. Malamud and the interviewers from May 11, 1973 to August 2, 1973 reveal the nature and scope of this interview.

We wrote Mr. Malamud asking him to agree to an interview because even though his fiction is the important thing, we felt that a full-scale interview could contribute a great deal also. His response to a variety of questions would, we believed, be most helpful to readers, students, critics, and scholars.

Ours was a simple plan. We would spend a few hours with Mr. Malamud taping questions and answers. We would then send him transcripts of the tape and he would modify as he saw fit--to best reflect what he wanted to say at any given point. Our object was simply to get a straightforward series of responses to questions often asked about his fiction. But we left other options open. For example, perhaps he would choose to do all of this by mail rather than through a personal interview.

Mr. Malamud chose the mail interview route. He pointed out that in the past he had avoided most interviews, "especially when tape recorders are relentlessly present," because he was often unhappy with his own responses. He added that he dislikes explaining his fiction because by describing his "intent" he may in effect "betray" his work. He fears that people may substitute what he says about his writing for their own imaginative reading of his fiction. Thus a certain kind of interview could be self-defeating.

Mr. Malamud went on to say that he doesn't "like to say where stories originated, from what incident, real or imagined, from my life or anyone else's." He felt strongly that one shouldn't confuse the author's life with his fiction or even devote much effort to relating the two--"That's a critic's pleasure and not mine."

When the questions were sent to Mr. Malamud, we emphasized that we had tried to follow certain guidelines, some of which he himself had proposed. We would use only those questions which had been asked in one way or another by readers, critics, students. We would try to avoid questions addressed to specific interpretations of his works, his characters. We would also try to avoid belaboring him with queries about sources. And, finally, we would try to eliminate personal matters.

We realized that we hadn't succeeded on all counts. However, we asked him to answer those questions he felt he could answer as completely as possible. He had the choice of answering part of a question rather than the whole. Or he could modify certain questions before he answered. In a word, we wanted him to be comfortable in his approach and to feel free to tailor the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420047436