Recently, I heard novelist Richard Ford speak at the University of South Carolina in the "Caught in the Creative Act" series organized by Janette Turner Hospital. Ford read an excerpt from The Lay of the Land and then spoke about the origins of that scene in a news item he once read. From there he launched into a pitch-perfect talk on the writer's life. In a self-deprecating note, he evoked Henry James, who said that for a writer to talk about himself is "to serve up the feast that starves the guests."
Ford admiringly drew from F. R. Leavis's essay on D.H. Lawrence, asserting that literature is "the supreme means by which we undergo a renewal of sensuous and emotional life, and learn a new awareness." He said that literature provides a commentary on what convention has no response for. He also quoted Thoreau: "A wrtier is one who, having nothing to do, finds something."
Ford said a writer must honor the skeptical view hinted at by Thoreau and at the same time the Leavis contention that the word is magical/mysterious/enlightening. Good writers hold those opposites in mind, something that a liberal education should teach us to do. In the end, he said a novelist must believe that "life is worth the notice the novel gives it."
From an interview with poet Dana Levin in The Kenyon Review:
G.C. Waldrep: What, then, is the relationship between autobiography and imagination in your work?
Dana Levin: The interesting question here is: what constitutes autobiography? I think of the Prologue to Memories, Dreams and Reflections, Carl Jung’s autobiography (undertaken when he was 83 and a fascinating read, particularly in terms of autobiography as form). In it he says,
In the end the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world irrupted into this transitory one. That is why I speak chiefly of inner experiences, amongst which I include my dreams and visions. These form the prima materia of my scientific work. They were the fiery magma out of which the stone that had to be worked was crystallized.
For “scientific” let’s say “poetic.” And for autobiography’s “childhood” let’s say “psychic development.” And I mean psychic, which is not only psychological because it includes notions of soul, or whatever you want to call the non-egoic inhabiting spirit in each of us. The suspicion in which I held Confessionalism while in grad school was well-founded in terms of aesthetic concerns, but it was absurd in terms of being a student of the psyche. How can one advance one’s study of human experience without plumbing the depths of one’s memories, deepest feelings and dreams?
Other Kenyon Review Interviews with Writers: Ted Kooser, Rebecca McClanahan, Stanley Plumly, many others