Posts Tagged ‘Interviews’


Thomas McGuane, 1984:
the Liz Lear interview

06/05/2008  by Arlo Haskell  4 Comments
Thomas McGuane, Tennessee Williams, James Kirkwood

Thomas McGuane, Tennessee Williams, and James Kirkwood at the wrap-party for the film adaptation of McGuane's Ninety-two in the Shade, ca. 1975, at Louie's Backyard in Key West.

Thomas McGuane’s Key West novels— Ninety-two in the Shade and Panama —are in a class of their own. They portray the volatile Key West of the 1970s, when a legion of do-it-yourself drug smugglers thrived and cocaine was plentiful, cheap, and, more or less, socially acceptable. McGuane’s heroes, Thomas Skelton and Chester Hunnicutt Pomeroy, chart that Key West with intelligence and recklessness, lust and candor, violence and acute observation. Since Hemingway in To Have and Have Not, no one has rendered the feel of the streets, shores, and waters of Key West so well as McGuane did in Panama.To read it today, thirty years after its publication, is to hear the bones of that not-so-distant place creaking beneath today’s clean veneer, to ghost-walk from lunch at La Lechonera to a fishing trip at the Cay Sal Bank, to watch kids playing at Astro City, to drink at the Full Moon Saloon, and to walk cross-town again and again in the mid-day sun from an overgrown Casa Marina to the oyster-shell paved parking lots between Caroline St. and the Gulf.

McGuane sold his Key West home in the early 1980s. He returned often to visit friends, and even joined our honorary board of directors. In 1984, he sat down with longtime KWLS board member, Liz Lear, for a conversation in the home of Bill Wright, also a former board member. They talk about Key West and why he left, about the threat of nuclear annihilation and the ocean, about writing, about writers, and about dogs. Originally published in Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review 36/2 (1986). Reprinted in Conversations with Thomas McGuane, edited by Beef Torrey, University Press of Mississippi (2007). Reprinted here with permission from Liz Lear.


This conversation took place in a house in Key West that McGuane had rented from fellow writer Bill Wright. It was a warm tropical night in March of 1984. We sat around a dining room table piled high with books and the just completed manuscript of Something to Be Desired. Through the open French doors a lighted pool glimmered and the soft breeze carried the floral scent of something nameless but sweet. From an adjacent room, the clear young inquiring voice of McGuane’s daughter Anne occasionally interrupted the story being read to her.

LL: I have always been intrigued with what attracts creative people to certain places. I wonder what or who brought them here and what makes them stay. Why are you in Key West?

TM: I first came to Key West as a boy with my father to go fishing. When I decided to come back here as an adult, it was because I associated the island with writers, reading, and writing.

American writers love exotic atmospheres, and yet really don’t want to live outside of the country. Key West is one of those places that allow them to have it both ways. It’s a southerly town without the burden of southern history. It’s intrinsically a nice place. I enjoy the ambience of a place where Spanish is spoken. I like that fecund smell the island has. I love to be out on the ocean: for better or worse, I’m still a sportsman and the ocean is one of the last frontiers where we can live in a civilized way next to that great wilderness.

LL: Did you always want to be a writer? When did you start?

TM: Yes. I always wanted to be a writer and I began when I was ten— at least to try.

LL: Did you ever do any other work?

TM: I never really made a living, of course. I worked as a boy and young man at odd jobs, the same kind of thing other kids did. I worked at a gas station. I worked as a cowboy— cowboy is too big a word for it: I worked on a ranch in an unskilled way. Then I went off to school and was just hell-bent to write, to read and write, and that’s it.

In Order to Make Bones Live:
a conversation with Alan Cheuse

05/20/2008  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

Alan Cheuse

As a book reviewer for National Public Radio for more than a quarter-century, Alan Cheuse has been called “The Voice of Books on National Public Radio.” Cheuse is also the author of several novels, a memoir, two short story collections, and a collection of essays on reading and writing. He last joined the Literary Seminar in 2003, and will return this January as a panelist and writers’ workshop instructor when we explore Historical Fiction and The Search for Truth. Cheuse’s forthcoming book, To Catch the Lightning, is a historical novel about photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952) and his struggle to complete “The North American Indian,” his epic project of photographing all of the native tribes of the western United States. I had a chance to talk with Cheuse recently, about NPR, Curtis, and the role novelists have in the writing of history.


Okuwa-tse ("Cloud Yellow")—1926

Littoral: Why did you choose to write about Curtis? And why did you write it as a novel?

Alan Cheuse: I first encountered Curtis’s photographs of the American Indian while I was in college. In fact I remember the first time I saw them. The Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a great old rerun house, mounted an exhibition of them in the lobby in the late nineteen fifties. That was the first time I saw Curtis’s work. I have long forgotten what movie I saw that evening in Cambridge, but I never forgot the faces and tones and settings of those portraits.


Navajo Medicine Man—1907

My research led me to Curtis the historical figure– photographer, self-made ethnographer, naive entrepreneur, difficult husband, and, through it all, devoted father. My novel, I hope, knits this all together in an inventive, forward-moving, uniquely presented way, giving especially the feel of his life, which narrative by historians doesn’t usually do. Which is to say, historians usually work from the outside in, and novelists move in the other direction. I don’t mean to pick a fight with historians here, but this is the way I see it. I suppose some of them might see a novelist waltzing through the field, picking up forget-me-nots and knotting them into a necklace and calling it history. But I’m not calling my novel history. I’m calling it a novel. I’ve written a novel about American journalist John Reed, and about an American woman painter based mostly on the life of Georgia O’Keeffe. The Curtis novel forms, at least in my own mind, the third in a kind of triptych about American artists, larger than life, but, I hope, still alive in our imaginations.

L: As I understand it, Curtis’ photographic negatives were awarded to his ex-wife Clara in the divorce settlement. Rather than see this transaction through, he destroyed them. Was the relationship between Curtis’ professional and personal lives always so fraught?


Nez Perce Baby—1911

AC: There’s a scene in the novel in which Curtis and his daughter Beth (she took Curtis’s side in the quarrel) and a few friends have a destroy the negatives party. Like most artists he found it difficult to draw a line between his professional life and personal life. He gave thirty years of his adult life to the project, but he was in spite of everything devoted to his family. Early on it was easier than later, when he became the Curtis history knows (who was the Curtis who knew history and its effects). He tried heartily to keep his family intact, but he couldn’t. He tried to be a good man– as his oldest child and only son said toward the end of the photographer’s life, “he was the best man I knew.”

Kristen-Paige Madonia named TSKW Artist in Residence

03/13/2008  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

kpm_AIR.jpgKristen-Paige Madonia, the winner of our inaugural Marianne Russo Scholarship, and a speaker during this year’s New Voices Seminar, has been selected by The Studios of Key West as their very first visiting literary artist. She’ll be staying in TSKW’s “Mango Tree House” for one month beginning in October, just in time for Fantasy Fest and, if she’s lucky, the tail end of the season for the mammoth mango trees on TSKW’s compound. I had a chance to talk with Kristen-Paige about her plans yesterday:

Arlo: What will you be working on during your residency at The Studios of Key West?

Kristen-Paige Madonia: I plan to work on my second novel. It’s about a sixteen-year old embarking on a cross-country trip from West Virginia to San Francisco. This trip is prompted by the discovery that she is pregnant, and by her on-going ambition to locate her paternal father, whom she has never met. My intention with this project is to give voice to a character exploring the transition between childhood and adulthood.

A: Didn’t you move from Virginia to the west coast? What role does your own life play in this novel?

KPM: Well, yes, I’ve made that cross-country trip too many times to count, but this novel isn’t only about the physical trip from one side of the US to the other, it’s also about the psychological journey of my character. It seems it is becoming more typical for people to move more frequently, whether it be an attempt at self-reinvention or a general anxiousness in society, so I’m trying to explore themes of rootlessness and restlessness in addition to the ever-changing definition of the “modern American family.” 


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