Writers & Company

Highlights from the first year of Writers & Company

This month we're celebrating our 25th anniversary. From our first season: Alice Munro, A.S. Byatt, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer and Eduardo Galeano.
From left: Alice Munro, A.S. Byatt, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer and Eduardo Galeano.

Writers & Company premiered on October 7, 1990, and for the past 25 years it has delved into the lives and work of the best writers — new and established — from around the world.

In the first season alone, Eleanor Wachtel spoke to a wide array impressive of authors: Mordecai Richler, Rohinton Mistry, Margaret Atwood and George Plimpton, just to name a few. This week's episode is a special compilation of the best interviews from the very first season of Writers & Company: Alice Munro, A.S. Byatt, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer and Eduardo Galeano.

ALICE MUNRO ON WHEN SHE DECIDED TO BECOME A WRITER

"It was when I was about 10 or 11. Before that, I would tell myself stories a lot and I would make up endings for stories that didn't satisfy me. Then, I used to think about being a movie star and I would think up movies I would be in. Somehow, from the movie star bit, I slid into the 'writing things down' bit. Then I started writing poetry and stories. I was into it quite thoroughly by the time I was 12."

A.S. BYATT ON HOW POETRY INFLUENCED HER NOVELS

"As a girl, I read a great deal of Woodworth's poetry, a great deal of Coleridge, a great deal of Browning, a great deal of Tennyson. I learn things by heart very easily. The whole of my mind is seemingly possessed by very long quotations, which I think about sitting in taxis. And suddenly, I was able to write a book in which the rhythms of how I actually think were useful."

J.M. COETZEE ON WHY HE WRITES

"If I believed that humane values were futile in every sense of the word, I wouldn't be writing these books. On the other hand, if I believed that humane values were the answer to every problem, I wouldn't be writing these books either. Why I am writing these books is to pose the question, 'What is the good of humane values?' We can believe in humane values. We can not only believe in humane values quite sincerely, but we can act in terms of humane values. The question is, is that going to be enough?"

NADINE GORDIMER ON HOW WRITING LEADS TO POLITICAL AWARENESS

"Writing is always a voyage of discovery. If you're going to be a writer, first of all, you develop unusual powers of observation. You're very contemplative of other people, as well as yourself. I was always an eager eavesdropper, and I still am — and I think that's one of the ways a writer teaches himself or herself to write dialogue, to write direct speech. You have to have an ear for the way different people speak, for the way they express themselves. The pauses indicate that what is not being said is there. That instinct is something that a writer subconsciously begins to teach herself. The political awareness came from looking very closely at the people around me, at myself and my society and people's place in it, my reactions, their reactions. It was falling, slowly, through layers of illusion and coming to an understanding of what is false and searching for what was true."

EDUARDO GALEANO ON WHY HE WRITES

"Memory changes everything it touches. Memories change with you, while you are changing. That's why I feel urgency to write certain things, because I know I will change and these memories of experience will also change. I try to share my memory with other people as soon as I think my memories are full of other people's memories: of marvel and horror and beautiful and terrible things inside. " 

Music to close the episode: "Country," written and performed by Keith Jarrett. From the album Keith Jarrett: My Song.

Comments from these interviews have been edited and condensed.

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