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. This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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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Interview with William Gibson, 1986
Gibson says he looks “for little odds and ends” to put into his work.They talk about Gibson’s book Neuromancer, which was his first novel, and as McCaffrey says is filled with rock and roll images. McCaffrey says it reminded him of Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Gibson says he was excited by the “surreal” about Hammett’s work. He heard about computer viruses from an “ex-WAC” who talked about someone having to come in to “wipe” unwanted programs. “It wasn’t until the book came out that I actually met people who knew what that was,” adding, “I was able to romanticize” computers. Some reviewers used terms like “notional space” that he used in his book Court Zero. They discuss revision. Gibson says computers are “the dominant scientific metaphor of our age,” as the Freudian metaphor was steam engines. He tries to “minimize the input,” worrying about “information sickness.” He talks about cyberpunk as a “marketing category,” and says, “I feel like it trivializes what I do.” They discuss the relationship among lying and convincing people that he knows what he is talking about and fiction, and Gibson talks about reading Burroughs. They discuss artificial intelligence and the AI “trope” in science fiction. Gibson talks about voodoo as a Haitian religion, and how it might figure into his work in progress (the third in the “Sprawl trilogy,” Mona Lisa Overdrive). Gibson talks about his childhood. He arrived in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1968 and lived in a community of Americans. He describes meeting John Shirley at a science fiction conference and how he described himself as a writer when he was not. They talk about his work in progress Mona Lisa Overdrive and about the East Village, New York: “If I lived in a place like that I’d write about unicorns.” Gibson mentions several non-literary influences on Neuromancer including Lou Reed, television and the film Escape From New York. The interview concludes with Gibson discussing his use of Japan in the novel. An edited version of this interview appears on page 130 to 150 of Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, ed. Larry McCaffery, 1990, University of Illinois Press and on pages 24 to 46 of Conversations with William Gibson, ed. Patrick A. Smith, 2014, University Press of Mississippi., San Diego State University, This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Interview with William Gibson, 1996
This interview is for a book fellow interviewer Takayuki Tatsumi is writing, to be published in Japan. Tatsumi and McCaffrey are at the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) at the Hilton Anaheim hotel, California, on the telephone to Gibson in Vancouver. McCaffery says the interview will focus on Gibson’s book Idoru. Gibson discusses an “organic pattern that developed with the first three novels” in which it is not necessary to read earlier books, so Idoru is not a sequel to his book Virtual Light. Gibson and McCaffrey discuss the real Japanese idoru and the process of creating the book. Gibson says Idoru was harder to write than Virtual Light. Tatsumi talks about the last time they spoke. He anticipates writing the introduction to the Japanese translation of Idoru. They discuss the book Difference Engine and the Hyperart Thomasson phenomenon and its appearance in Gibson’s work, moving on to Gibson’s interview of the real idoru. Tatsumi wants to know about Gibson’s “tragic heroines,” and Gibson discusses this in terms of D. H. Lawrence and dualism. They discuss celebrity, Gibson’s thoughts on what Warhol might have done had he survived, and the work of Marcel Duchamp. Next they discuss otaku and their representation in publications. Last, Tatsumi wants to know about Gibson’s recent (1996) essay “The Net Is a Waste of Time,” published in the New York Times of July 14, 1996. Gibson answers with characters from his books and his own biography, and the two discuss current world urban populations. McCaffery asks about Gibson’s meaning when a character talks about the unreality of another character. Gibson says young people want cheaper monthly rates, more bandwidth, etc, but are not worrying about what McCaffery calls “the disappearance of the real.” What’s “scary about Neuromancer,” Gibson says, “is the end-stage capitalism with no brakes on, a world with no middle class.” Otherwise there are details that are “a neat conceit.” They discuss Timothy Leary’s death and remembrances of him. McCaffrey asks about celebrity, and Gibson says that his new book is about observations of celebrity rather than his own experience., San Diego State University, This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Interview with William Kennedy
Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory meet with William Kennedy in August of 1983 in his house in Averill Park, New York. The interview begins with a discussion of Kennedy’s residence in Albany and how it has informed his fiction. Kennedy discusses his time as a journalist in Puerto Rico and how the combination of being away from Albany for several years as well as his work in journalism helped form the more journalistic aspects of fiction centered on the history of Albany. The discussion centers around how Albany becomes more than just a setting for the fiction but actually a character in its own right. Kennedy explains that the downside to all of this is that the research necessary to be true to the history of the city means that he gets bogged down doing the research and it can distract him from the actual writing. A number of questions concern the use of political history in the books and how they can reflect a larger political history and how that can also be reflected in the fiction of other authors not thought of primarily as political writers. The final 70 minutes of the interview hinge around the differences between novels and films and if films can do the same things that a novel can do. An edited version of this interview appears on pages 151 to 174 of Alive and Writing: Interviews with American Authors of the 1980s, ed. Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory, 1987, University of Illinois Press. The final 70 minutes of the interview are not reflected in the published version., San Diego State University, This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Interview with Yoriko Shono
Due to rights issues, the audio of this interview is not available online. Please contact San Diego State University, Special Collections and Archives if you wish to be granted access to the original audio. Larry McCaffery, Sinda Gregory, Mari Kotani and Takayuki Tatsumi meet with and interview Yoriko Shono at a restaurant in Japan. Shono’s replies are all in Japanese and are translated for McCaffery and Gregory by Tatsumi. McCaffery and Gregory explain that all of their questions will focus on Time Warp Complex because it is the only book of Shono’s that had, at that time, been translated into English. Shono explains that Time Warp Complex is not representative of the majority of her writing but had been more accessible to be translated but that her major work, Restless Dream, would resist translation due to a reliance on Japanese language play. She explains that Restless Dream, which she spent a decade writing, formed the foundation for her future writing. Shono gives an in-depth explanation of the “discursive framework” of her novel Restless Dream and how it comes from Japanese language. Shino explains how she was influenced both by writers and by her experience in earning a law degree. An edited version of this interview was published as “This Conflict Between Illusion and Brutal Reality: An Interview with Yoriko Shono” on pages 172-178 of Review of Contemporary Fiction Vol. 22 (2), Summer 2002., San Diego State University, This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Jerry Bumpus Visits a Class, 1977
This tape is labeled “Q&A Undergrad Class SDSU." It opens with Bumpus discussing how “a story’s direction can change.” Bumpus answers questions related to his process and how long a story takes to complete. Bumpus says he works on one story until finished, but one exception was after a bout of pneumonia when there was “a great rush” of first drafts that he wrote “as fast as I could.” A question about the use of country and western music elicits a discussion about regional writing. To another question Bumpus answers that he does not have an “audience in mind.” Asked if he has not been tempted to write something for money, Bumpus says that even if he does try to write for the popular market, the story evolves away from popular “preconceived notions.” For a question about which writers influenced him, Bumpus lists Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Nelson Algren. There is a discussion about why Bumpus depicts sex as he does. McCaffery and Bumpus discuss teaching writing. Bumpus talks about influencing peoples’ subconscious minds, animals in his work, and religion. The question “what parts of Things in Place were hallucinations" elicits a discussion of the use of what one student calls “fantastic elements in “contemporary fiction.” Bumpus talks about his involvement with characters., San Diego State University, This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Jerry Bumpus Visits a Class, 1985
Jerry Bumpus answers questions from a class of Larry McCaffery’s students. Bumpus discusses the animal instinct in his short stories with specific focus on several stories in the collection Things in Place. He mentions that the characters in his stories rarely know what they are doing. He discusses his goals when writing and the style that his writing takes. The recording is cut off before the conclusion., San Diego State University, This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Lecture by Jack Williamson
Jack Williamson delivers a lecture on the current space exploration being done by NASA with attendant slides to augment the lecture. Williamson explains the material and cultural advantages that the space program has provided for modern America., San Diego State University, This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Max Apple Visits a Class
This tape is labeled, “Max Apple—In Class.” McCaffery instructs his class to not be intimidated and take the chance to “ask a real live writer.” None of the questioners is identified. To one question, Apple replies, “I was thinking of that day in the future in which you would ask me that question. I can’t answer.” He talks about rhetoric and technology, and how he likes to “visualize” or “personalize” things. Apple addresses the differences between comedy and tragedy. “You’re entering my fabric of words” when reading his stories. When asked whose work he reads, he says he’s “too tired to answer that question” and asks the class what they have read. He taught a course on “great books” and suggested a course in “famous cocktail party conversations,“ because what people want from a course on “great books” is something to say. He is the narrator of his story, “Inside Norman Mailer,” which he says is “full of classical allusions.” He reads an excerpt from it. “A good reader” can analyze text, but a writer might have done things unconsciously and cannot talk about what he did not know he did. with American Authors of the 1980s. At about 45 minutes the tape is turned over. Some of the questions cannot be heard. Inspiration is different with each story. A novel, Apple says, is emotionally easier than short stories, because one gets “wedded” to characters. He says the fall of Richard Nixon reminded him of Aeschylus the playwright and Greek tragedy and that stories with classic elements appeal to people of all social classes. McCaffery ends by talking about assignments for the class., and Apple’s voice is in the background before the recorder is shut off. This session may have been edited for Alive and Writing: Interviews with American Authors of the 1980s., San Diego State University, This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Q & A with Barry Hannah
Due to rights issues, the audio of this interview is not available online. Please contact San Diego State University, Special Collections and Archives if you wish to be granted access to the original audio. Barry Hannah takes questions from Larry McCaffery’s class. Hannah talks about his writing habits. Hannah answers questions about the status of a film version of his novel Ray. He talks about his interest in the Civil War. Hannah discusses his love of his home state Mississippi and the art that comes from there. Certain portions of his answers appear, in edited form in the interview that appears on pages 111 to 125 of Alive and Writing: Interviews with American Authors of the 1980s, ed. Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory, University of Illinois Press, 1987. There is an interview between Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory with Barry Hannah that underlies the left channel of the recording., San Diego State University, This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Q & A with Jerry Bumpus, Graduate Class
This tape is labeled "Question & Answer--Graduate Class SDSU, 10-77," although the date is in September. A class member asks if the author writes about sex and alcoholism, how much does the author need to know about those things? Bumpus says he tries to write about “those possibilities” that are “beneath the surface” but are not consensual reality. Another student asks about the “façade” we maintain, and he says “it’s a tremendous accomplishment,” maintaining that façade. In dreaming we may escape it. Another student reads a description of Bumpus and asks about alcoholism in Bumpus’s book Anaconda, and why he wrote about it. Bumpus says he knew about drinking from living in an economically depressed community and from students at Iowa State University, which he attended. “A lot of my early experience was seeing” people who were broke and drinking heavily. They discuss plot elements in Anaconda. Bumpus talks about William Faulkner. Another question concerns “the unconscious,” and Bumpus talks about Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis, and Freudian “forces.” Questions include one about D. H. Lawrence and professional writing, another about illustrations in Anaconda, and one about patterns in Bumpus’s work, which Bumpus answers using one of his characters. Reading, he says, is always “inspiring.”, San Diego State University, This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Q & A with Jerry Bumpus, Undergraduate Class
This tape is labeled “Question and Answer Undergrad class.” Side 1 opens abruptly in a very noisy environment on an ongoing conversation about a story.There does not appear to be a class involved. Three men are in the discussion, two obviously Bumpus and McCaffery, with a woman's voice once about halfway through the tape.The story appears to be about the Army and something called “Garden of Eden” by S. P. Dinsmoor.The “Garden” is a concrete sculpture in Lucas, Kansas about which a documentary was made. In his story Bumpus shifted the venue for the sculpture to Carlsbad Caverns. He is interested in filmmaking, went to Germany and got involved in filmmaking there. . Bumpus talks about William Burroughs and Thomas Pynchon. He moves on to talking about an apiarist and a film he made, telling “the backstory” for McCaffery. He talks about researching the apiarist for his work, finding metaphors about bees used in freemasonry.This side ends abruptly., San Diego State University, This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Q & A with Raymond Federman, Graduate Class
Due to rights issues, the audio of this interview is not available online. Please contact San Diego State University, Special Collections and Archives if you wish to be granted access to the original audio. Raymond Federman takes questions from a class at San Diego State University. He begins by explaining the movement away from realism beginning in the late 19th Century and his place in it. Federman explains what he is trying to do in The Voice in the Closet and Take It or Leave It. He explains that “language is both what gets me where I want to go and prevents me from going there.” Some of the questions and answers appear in edited form on pages 127 to 151 of Anything Can Happen: Interviews with Contemporary American Novelists, ed. Tom LeClair and Larry McCaffery, University of Illinois Press, 1983., San Diego State University, This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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