Collection Description

Larry McCaffery is an SDSU professor emeritus of English. In addition to teaching, McCaffery built a reputation as an important postmodern and contemporary American literary critic known for identifying influential and innovative writers. Over the course of thirty years, he and his wife, Sinda Gregory (a scholar in her own right), conducted numerous interviews with notable postmodern and contemporary American writers. In total there are 71 interviewees, including Mark Danielewski, Samuel Delany, Raymond Carver, Joanna Russ, Ursula LeGuin, Raymond Federman, and William Gibson.

McCaffery's unique interview process started with a recorded interview on tape. He then made a loose transcription of the recorded conversation, making changes and rearranging sections as he went. Both McCaffery and the interviewee heavily edited this transcript, which eventually resulted in the creation of a final, collaborative manuscript. Some original audio recordings are reproduced here, while others are only available in our offline archives.

McCaffery’s interviews were published in several books: Anything Can Happen: Interviews with Contemporary American Novelists (1983); Alive and Writing: Interviews with American Authors of the 1980s (1986); Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Authors (1990); and Some Other Frequency: Interviews with Innovative American Authors (1995).

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Cris Mazza visits a class
Cris Mazza visits Larry McCaffery’s class and takes questions from students. The questions focus on the short stories in Mazza’s second collection, Is It Sexual Harassment Yet?. The questions focus around the inspiration for the stories and the sexuality inherent within them. A considerable portion of the questions and answers focus around the recently concluded confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas in his appointment to the Supreme Court., San Diego State University
Graduate Class with Jerome Klinkowitz
Jerome Klinkowitz takes questions from Larry McCaffery’s graduate students. Klinkowitz discusses the humor in the writers included in his book The Life of Fiction, most especially Kurt Vonnegut. Klinkowitz addresses the lack of female writers in his book, noting that in contemporary culture, female writers are called upon to write more socially conscious novels rather than the more personal ones written by the writers included in his book. He discusses several female writers he considered including and the reasons why, in the end, they were not included in the book. Klinkowitz discusses the use of language among the writers featured in his book., San Diego State University
Graduate Class with Steve Katz
The tape opens to a group discussing revision. A note on the cassette liner labels this as a graduate class. Katz asks whether they are trained to read books and then ask questions about them. Katz asks if anyone thought what they read was serious, and they say they all took it seriously. He discusses exploring the potential of storytelling. Katz discusses the audience for different types of writing. A student asks whether art is becoming more of a visual medium, like “last night’s Readers Theater." A student asks if Katz found teaching at a parochial school (Notre Dame) restrictive. Katz says he has nothing to “break” the Catholic Church. Another asks how Katz “looked at the critical writing process,” Katz replies he “tries to teach as little as possible,” because he does not want to try to articulate his ideas in anything other than “the medium itself.” He thinks it is “one of the decadences of writing in general” to find so many writers studying at university. Katz is working on a book called “Journalism,” which is a reportage of voices he has heard during his lifetime. He asks if they read Cheyenne River Wild Track, but it was out of print, so no. He says he uses poetry for its “economy” and rhythm. McCaffery talks about Katz’s book “Creamy & Delicious,” which has poems at the end of each chapter and asks if Katz was just playing with words. Katz says those were “little Tinkertoys,” such as “defend your liver,” which he got from a sign in Milan. Another student asks what hold New York City has over its artists. Katz says, “that’s where the money has been,” adding “there is a kind of energy there” that makes it easy to work. Katz says he could live in any city but Los Angeles. He reads some short poems until the end of the tape., San Diego State University
Interview with Bruce Sterling
Against loud music, McCaffery says this is an interview of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, but it is Sterling alone. Sinda Gregory also takes part. They discuss artificial intelligence, and Sterling brings up the work of Rudy Rucker and the idea of “postmodern science.” Sterling says of Gibson, “His brain works in mysterious fashion." Gibson’s “perceptions are very acute,” not like other science-fiction writers, who “are very interiorized.” They discuss Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. Sterling uses “pomo” for “postmodernism.” They talk about Difference Engine characters and the real Sam Houston. McCaffery asks about the character John Keats. They discuss the place of the book Sybil or the Two Nations, in their book. Sterling says Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are parodied in the book. Jim joins the interviewers. Sterling says the narrator is an extremely advanced artificial intelligence from 1991, getting closer to being able to see itself. “This book is about the conceptual roots of the information revolution” where the computer becomes self aware at the end of the book.” About the process, Sterling says, “I think it’s a very seriously computer constructed book." McCaffery talks about sampling and Sterling discusses détournement. The second tape begins with Sterling telling a story about Langston Hughes and Arthur Koestler. In the book, Sterling says what looks like chaos theory was “more of a metaphorical thing” than scientific. Sterling says he began his career doing historical fantasy. McCaffery says that the book has the “underworld, outsider perspective” of the cyberpunk genre. Sterling replies that “Angel of Goliad” was an earlier draft. “We started with Sybil,” he says. Sterling says there are those who can see “that this is some kind of experimentalist narrative,” and those who ask “Where’s the plot?” “Why was it set specifically in 1855?” McCaffery asks, and what about 1907? The dates, Sterling says, were to establish “the sense of historical scope” and ability to move back and forth in history. 30 years into a computer revolution is “where we are right now.”, San Diego State University
Interview with Clarence Major
Larry McCaffery, Jerzy Kutnik and Sinda Gregory meet with Clarence Major at his home in Davis, California. Much of the discussion focuses on Major’s novel Such Was the Season, its movement towards a more realistic fiction in Major’s work and the real life events that helped spark the novel. The discussion includes the influence of a wide array of media on Major’s work including music and Major’s own work as a painter. The final part of the discussion focuses around Major’s place as an Afro-American writer and his place in the “Black Aesthetic Movement” in relation to other writers. The final eight minutes of the interview contain severe distortion. An edited version of this interview appears on pages 241-264 of Some Other Frequency: Interviews with Innovative American Authors, ed. Larry McCaffery, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996., San Diego State University
Interview with Cris Mazza
Larry McCaffery interviews Cris Mazza at his home in San Diego. Mazza, who was a graduate student of McCaffery’s at San Diego State, discusses in depth the majority of short stories that appear in her collections Animal Acts and Is It Sexual Harassment Yet?. Mazza discusses the stories in relation to current events, such as the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings and the William Kennedy Smith rape trial. Mazza explains how she came to write many of the stories and how the process relates to her soon-to-be published novel and her several unpublished novels., San Diego State University
Interview with Derek Pell
Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory meet with Derek Pell in his apartment in Manhattan. The discussion begins with Pell’s book Assassination Rhapsody, a satirical deconstruction of the Warren Report. From there, it continues on to the various things that Pell does, both in terms of satire and in terms of collage within books. Much of the discussion ranges around the limits of satire including what Pell does under his pseudonyms of Doktor Bey and Norman Conquest. Pell explains how he came to use the pseudonyms, the work that he does under those names and how they have become almost a separate part of his own personality. The end of the discussion is dominated by the notion that American writers do not know how to properly write erotic fiction and that it comes out as pornography instead which is what Pell has been satirizing in some recent work. An edited version of this interview appears on pages 270-286 of Some Other Frequency: Interviews with Innovative American Authors, ed. Larry McCaffery, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996., San Diego State University
Interview with Eurydice Kamvisseli (Eurudice)
In 1993 a story by “Eurudice” (Eurydice Kamvasseli) was published in McCaffery’s anthology Avant-Pop: Fiction for a Daydream Nation.To start this interview, Kamvasseli and McCaffery had viewed a video, and McCaffery asked if it has anything to do with her book F/32, and she says no, she wants to keep her work from being “filmable.” Both her interest in cinema and her writing come from the image of a mirror. Kamvasseli says the title of the book refers to a lens aperture in photography, and the shutter in that metaphor is reminiscent of the “toothed vagina” of folktales. She mentions Jacques Lacan as representative of attitudes towards women. She made some changes after talking with Ronald Sukenick, and “some of the things men say are verbatim. ”She says, “The story of the book is a fable.” It originates partly from philosophical and religious dualism, and they discuss that and the mechanics of writing. Kamvasseli talks about her childhood, which she calls “absurd.” They discuss “appropriating” text. They continue their discussion of inspiration to write coming from other books. She writes in English because she is conscious of Greek tradition. She speaks about going to Redondo Beach Union High School after having run away from home. They talk about her humor. She does not write to shock people, but if she tries not to write about sex she gets writer’s block. She discusses self-awareness in writing and Stein’s “little dog knows me” metaphor. Explaining that both sexual intercourse and writing come from a oneness without individuality, she says that therefore she is not good at revision. They talk about guilt, which she says she does not understand. They discuss erotic literature, and she underlines the transcendent aspect of sex. This first tape ends at around one hour and 34 minutes.At the opening of the third side, Kamvasseli says that in her book F/32 she wanted to reclaim the word “cunt” for women to use, to move it from the “scatological to the ontological.” They talk about modernism, postmodernism, cyberpunk, Madonna, various authors, feminism, and sexual repression.They discuss her experience with poetry and then surrealism., San Diego State University
Interview with Gene Wolfe
Larry McCaffery meets with Gene Wolfe at his home in Barrington, Illinois in June of 1985. For the first eleven minutes, as the discussion ranges around the film version of Dune and moves towards Wolfe’s fiction, there is a lot of outdoor noise. After the 11 minute mark, the interview moves indoors and Wolfe begins by discussing his theory that science fiction has always been around and will always be around and that it is realistic fiction that is the fad that will fade away. Wolfe notes the fantastical in works such as Homer, Shakespeare and the Greek myths. Wolf explains how he came to be a science fiction writer, starting with reading Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in the comic pages and how he came across the Pocket Book of Science Fiction. Wolfe discusses the books he read as a child before discussing his time in the Korean War and the influence it had on his fiction. Wolfe explains his history as a writer, before and after publication. While the discussion ranges across other science fiction writers and a variety of Wolfe’s works, it continually returns to Wolfe’s recent novel cycle, The Book of the New Sun. Wolfe discusses his intentions with the book, his ideas, his goals and a potential future follow-up. An edited version of all but the first eleven minutes of the interview appears on pages 233 to 256 of Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, ed. Larry McCaffery, 1990, University of Illinois Press., San Diego State University
Interview with Gregory Benford
Speaking in a noisy eatery, McCaffery and Benford discuss modern science fiction and the future of computers. They talk about modern and past culture, with Benford saying that the epic poem is now “fossil culture.” McCaffery and Benford discuss writing about human sexuality and good and bad characters. Benford says, “The best hard SF writers have considerable mystical content, because science has considerable mystical content.” He discusses the two strains in American fiction: “the frontier” (Robert A. Heinlein) and the “transcendental element.” Benford’s brother Jim arrives: “Two only children,” Greg says of identical twins. Greg Benford talks about writing for SF fanzines and being in fandom. McCaffery talks about the book for which he is doing this series of interviews, Across the Wounded Galaxies. Speaking of one of his books, Benford says he used a “Southern storyteller voice” like his grandfather’s, based on the “tradition of the South. ”McCaffery and Benford discuss the television show “Max Headroom” and the future of social and sexual roles, as well as genetic or evolutionary change. McCaffery asks when he began writing. “At first I just liked the idea of storytelling,” and then he saw that some things can be approached only “through a set of controlled lies, which is what fiction is, a method of lying.”, San Diego State University
Interview with Jack Williamson
Larry McCaffery and Jack Williamson meet in Williamson’s house in Portales, New Mexico and discuss Williamson’s long career as a science fiction writer. Williamson discusses the early days of writing science fiction in the late 1920s, writing for Hugo Gernsback (who was hands-off and sometimes didn’t pay) and John Campbell (who was more of a hand-on editor and was more influential). Williamson stresses the importance of optimism in technology and what technology can do for the human race, both in science fiction and in reality. Williamson’s writing stems from an isolated youth and attempts to entertain himself and from reading writers like H.G. Wells, who Williamson would later write a dissertation about. Williamson explores the source of his ideas, including his own time in psychoanalysis. Williamson, as one of the most prolific collaborators in the history of science fiction, discusses his various collaborators and what it was like to work with such different artists as James A. Gunn, Frederik Pohl and Lee Elias. Williamson discusses the rise of science fiction as an academic subject and what he has done to further that, with his own thesis and years of teaching. Throughout the interview, Williamson returns time and again to the notion of progress through technology and civilization and the reflection of that in science fiction. An edited version of the interview appears in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Jul., 1991), pp. 230-252., San Diego State University
Interview with Jerry Bumpus
Bumpus, at this time associate professor of English at San Diego State University, talks about editing and publishing anthologies and McCaffery asks questions about the process. Bumpus thinks that Anaconda is a good book, which he sent to “20 or something” publishers. McCaffery says that people think that the publishing situation “is getting worse.” Bumpus feels the same, saying that there is more good writing, but “publishing is backing off on publishing first novels. It’s a cost thing, I think.” “Only Esquire” among the “slick” magazines has published his short stories, “but I try them.” McCaffery asks why the slick magazines did not publish Bumpus’s work, and Bumpus answers that he thinks it’s the type of fiction that is the problem. McCaffery asks if Bumpus’s stories appeal to the average reader. Bumpus thinks they do, because people reading the magazines are better educated. McCaffery says that it sounds as if the editors and publishers are not willing to take a chance, and Bumpus agrees. McCaffery asks whether Bumpus is an innovator, and Bumpus replies that he is not as much an experimenter as other authors. He gets “unsure” of himself the farther away he gets from “realism.”, San Diego State University