Private writers

David Sexton, in London’s Evening Standard, joins the ranks of journalists taking note of J.M. Coetzee’s refusal to be interviewed. Sexton examines the motivations of Coetzee and other great writers (like Samuel Beckett and Vladimir Nabokov) who have spurned interview attempts.

Sexton cites a past series of transcribed discussions between Coetzee and “an academic collaborator,” in which Coetzee explained:

An interview is not just, as you call it, an ‘exchange’: it is, nine times out of 10 (this is the 10th case, thank God!), an exchange with a complete stranger, yet a stranger permitted by the conventions of the genre to cross the boundaries of what is proper in conversation between strangers. I don’t regard myself as a public figure, a figure in the public domain. I dislike the violation of propriety, to say nothing of the violation of private space, that occurs in the typical interview.

Nabokov also expressed contempt for the false “cosiness” of in-person interviews, according to Sexton, and insisted that any “interviewer’s questions [had] to be sent to [him] in writing, answered by [him] in writing, and reproduced verbatim.”


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