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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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Reading by Raymond Federman, 1985
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. After a brief humorous introduction from Larry McCaffery, Raymond Federman reads pages 1-2 and 24-27 from his 1980 novel The Twofold Vibration as well as pages 3-11 and 18-24 of his then forthcoming novel Smiles on Washington Square (A Love Story of Sorts). The recording cuts off before the conclusion of the reading., 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.
Reading by Richard Grossman
Richard Grossman reads from his novel The Alphabet Man. He reads pages 220-222, 223-227, 238-256. After the reading, Grossman takes questions from students. There is a break in the audio towards the end of the reading. The audio cuts off before the questions are concluded., 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.
Reading by Robert Coover
Robert Coover gives a reading at San Diego State University of his 1994 short story “The New Thing”. He follows that with a reading from pages 3-4, 399-400 and 462-463 of his 1977 novel The Public Burning. He continues with a reading of pages 3, 5-6, 101-106 of his 1998 novel Ghost Town. He follows that with a reading of pages 13, 58 and 61-63 of his 1991 novel Pinocchio in Venice. He then takes questions from the crowd., 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.
Reading by Ron Sukenick
Ron Sukenick reads from his novel 98.6. He reads pages 3-4, 25-27, 37-38, 41-42, 45, 59-60 and 167-177., 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.
Reading by Susan Sontag
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. After a brief introduction stressing the importance of literature, Susan Sontag reads the entirety of her 1986 short story “The Way We Live Now”. Sontag then gives a brief description of the story of her forthcoming play Alice in Bed and after summarizing the previous scene, reads Scene 6 from the play which is entirely a dramatic monologue by Alice James, sister of Henry and William James., 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.
Reading by Tom Robbins
Tom Robbins reads from an early draft version of his novel Still Life with Woodpecker written in the first person from the viewpoint of Bernard Mickey Wrangle. He then takes questions from the audience including a discussion of his writing habits and influences. A discussion between Larry McCaffery and an unidentified female about room scheduling permeates through part of the reading., 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.
Reading by William Eastlake
After a brief introduction by Larry McCaffery, William Eastlake reads from a work in progress. Titled at the time Gulliver’s Travels Among the Remote Nations of the Universe, this novel, unpublished at the time of Eastlake’s death in 1997, would be referred to in a 1983 interview as Ms. Marybelle’s Speed of Light Space Cirkus, Komedy and Magick Show. The recording runs out before the reading is concluded., After a brief introduction by Larry McCaffery, William Eastlake reads from a work in progress. Titled at the time Gulliver’s Travels Among the Remote Nations of the Universe, this novel, unpublished at the time of Eastlake’s death in 1997, would be referred to in a 1983 interview as Ms. Marybelle’s Speed of Light Space Cirkus, Komedy and Magick Show. The recording runs out before the reading is concluded., 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.
Reading by William Gass of Omensetter's Luck
The tape starts with the sound of many people talking. Then a dramatic reading from William Gass’s first book, Omensetter’s Luck., the chapter “The Triumph of Israbestis Tott.” begins. McCaffery says that Pam Adams directed “Icicles” (not on this tape), and Tom Rider directed the “Triumph of Israbestis Tott.” This was a “Living Authors” presentation, the last one of the semester, with a “Readers Theater” dramatic reading. He asks Gass how he feels about reading aloud, and Gass answers that the “whole point” of writing is for the ear. He says the show was a “realization of the text.” Adams says she had to do the cutting and said she cut about half the text in order to make the performance work. A student asks about Gass’s work schedule, and he says he works “continuously,” and can work 16 hours a day if otherwise free. This novel took more than 12 years of composition. A student asks if Gass is always thinking about his work, and the answer is that it is “in the back of my head.” In response to a question Gass discusses rhythm, pace, and rhetorical structure, saying, “I’m a very operatic writer.” Someone asks if the story is autobiographical, and Gass says it was “almost entirely made up.” Someone asks if he did research, and Gass answers that he does not do research, but the names and characters come first, with the language before the bodies. He says that if something is not either implied or stated in the book it is not in the book; there are deliberate loose ends. They discuss the works of Stendhal. There is no unified voice in Omensetter’s Luck, because it took a long time to write, and it is “layered, like geological strata,” and “not written by the same person.” In answer to a question, he says that the name Israbestis is rare but he actually found it., 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.
Reading by William Gass of The Tunnel
At the beginning people talk and someone tests the tape recorder. McCaffery silences the crowd and says Gass has a cold, so they will need to be quiet. He introduces Gass and says he will be reading from his work in progress The Tunnel. The introduction is cut short as the tape is turned off and back on, and Gass starts to speak. He introduces the narrator and says he will read one of the chapters called “Mad Meg.” He says that the narrator is “digging a tunnel through language.” However, as he reads, it becomes clear that the first passage he is reading is from what was published as the first chapter of the book, “Life in a Chair.” From the end of a section in that chapter, he reads passages from several chapters called “Mad Meg” 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.
Seminar with William Gass
This is the fifth and final seminar in the “Living Authors” program, and students ask questions. Gass discusses how he sees the reader using his texts. About the theft of a manuscript, Gass describes “working long hours,” and “going without sleep” while teaching. He says the replacement was a “better book” than the first version. He speaks about the writer’s “task,” use of words, and poetry. He talks about characters and how he wants to be “as direct as possible,” not difficult. He talks about literary criticism as “education,” and metatext. Gass says he does not “feel competent” to write poetry but enjoys writing doggerel, especially limericks. McCaffery asks a question about “Icicles,” which was performed as a dramatic reading. On the second side of the tape Gass talks briefly about “epiphany” until McCaffery calls a break. Then Gass discusses Henry Miller. Gass discusses Wittgenstein as a “great mind in action.” He talks about Thomas Pynchon’s writing and discusses what makes a good book. A student asks how a text can be self-contained when words must refer to the outside world, and Gass says that is a tension in art. Gass discusses Latin American writing and moves on to how his views have changed. Gass says plot is traditionally the most important device in fiction, which is “the organization of words,” not “events.” Gass talks about the narrator’s view of a story and analytical versus mechanistic style. Asked why he wrote Omensetter’s Luck, Gass answers that he does not know what each book will be like. He discusses the creation of text, using chalk on the chalkboard to diagram his meaning. He uses intentional symbols and refers to the real world but he is “not interested in” the real world, but transformation. He says, “I write because I can’t help it,” adding, “I don’t enjoy it at all.” He does enjoy teaching. Gass considers himself to be a writer who is more fundamentally interested in fiction but in the last few years he has been writing essays. Gass says that no one knows whether they are writing for a small audience. In his book he was interested in “recursiveness,” and discusses how the book works using the chalkboard., 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.
Undergraduate Class with Jerome Klinkowitz
Jerome Klinkowitz takes questions from an undergraduate class taught by Larry McCaffery. Klinkowitz expounds on his idea that contemporary modernist writers are not writing fiction in a way that reflects the world around them, noting several examples and honing in on a 1960 quote from Philip Roth about fiction not being able to express the current world properly. Klinkowitz compares what Kurt Vonnegut does with his fiction with abstract expressionist painters. Klinkowitz explains that he despaired over the state of contemporary fiction in the late sixties before discovering the humor in works by such authors as Vonnegut and Ronald Sukenick., 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.
Undergraduate Class with Steve Katz
This tape is labeled undergraduate class. Katz says one story woke him up in the middle of the night. A student asks, “Do all your stories have a meaning?” He answers, “The story is mine; the meaning is yours.” A student asks how long it took to write 43 Fictions, and Katz says “about 15 years.” McCaffery asks why Katz stopped studying veterinary medicine. He took some writing classes, which he said freed him up to write, but it took him about 10 years to get over the influences. A student asks about writing every day. He says, “You have to do that every day.” They discuss his book Posh, which he says he wrote to make money. Someone asks about imagination, and Katz answers that he notices that he is “occasionally haunted by some images or some ideas.” Someone asks about “a message” and he says a story is story and meaning is meaning, and that students are made to find them. On the next side Katz talks about his drug use while writing. Someone asks what he is going to do next. Katz says he does not know, and begins talking about “metalanguage.” In answer to a question about systems in art, Katz discusses systems that “consume” people and make products of art. He talks about his book The Exagggerations of Peter Prince published. Someone asks about the Fiction Collective, and he answers that “commercial publishers aren’t publishing the work of serious authors.” McCaffery asks about stories in the book Creamy & Delicious. Someone asks about his favorite authors, and he mentions Doris Lessing, Georges Sand and George Eliot, and says Carol Emshwiller is his favorite woman writer, adding that he cannot think of any male writers he likes. Someone asks why Katz writes. He says he has “been asking myself that question.” They talk about the Readers Theater performance that was done of his work during this visit., 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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