"He was very shy, and had that wonderful Oxford and Cambridge way of asking youm questions. I remember going and having tea with him once, and he said, 'George, what do you know about opera?' It was one of those big sort of questions, and I said, 'I've always been fond of Wagner.' He would then say, 'The reason I ask is, that I'm writing an opera with Benjamin Britten, and thought I would ask your advice.'
"When he agreed to do the interview, we were all very excited because here was this great novelist telling us why he hadn't written a novel since 1926. It made the first issue and was grabbed up by scholars everywhere. He told us he hadn't finished more novels because he couldn't control his characters. There was a novel he was writing called 'Arctic Summer.' The characters all set off from King's Cross and were to go out into the countryside and come back. They got into trains and went whistling off and he couldn't get them back."
Since the Forster interview, the Paris Review has interrogated such luminaries as William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Dorthy Parker, Truman Capote , Lillian Hellman, Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, T.S. Elliot, Boris Pasternak, Eudora Welty, Allen Ginsberg, and Vladimir Nabokov. How did the Review lure all these authors into their graceful inquisitions?
"The interviews are about the craft of writing, therefore the subject is not being bushhacked," Plimpton says. "He gets the best opportunity we can give him. We send the thing back to him, and often the novelist revises his own interview and gives it the flavor he would give his books.
"Some of them talk rmarkably about the creative process. Joe Heller, for example, talks about how novels come into his mind a one brief leap. They always start with the first sentence, which leads to a second, to a third, a fourth, and then a whole novel unrolls like a gigantic roll of toilet paper.