Anne Fleming

“No, thank you, no more coffee. I’ll have a cigarette.”

In this term’s grad workshop, we’ve been reading a lot of Paris Review interviews. Thanks to Julie Fowler for tapping this one with Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen, conducted in Rome over three days in 1956. Blixen is blithe and charming and quite unselfconsciously colonialist. It is so 1956! And yet, not so very different than today. Witness the thrown-up hands of the publisher here:

“When I came back from Africa in 1931, after living there since 1914, I had lost all the money I had when I married because the coffee plantation didn’t pay, you know; I asked my brother to finance me for two years while I prepared Seven Gothic Tales, and I told him that at the end of two years I’d be on my own. When the manuscript was ready, I went to England, and one day at luncheon there was the publisher Huntington, and I said, “Please, I have a manuscript and I wish you’d look at it.” He said, “What is it?” and when I replied, “A book of short stories,” he threw up his hands and cried, “No!” and I begged, “Won’t you even look at it?” and he said, “A book of short stories by an unknown writer? No hope!” Then I sent it to America, and it was taken right away by Robert Haas, who published it, and the general public took it and liked it, and they have always been faithful. No, thank you, no more coffee. I’ll have a cigarette.”

We agreed in class that the charm of the interview had more than a little to do with the interviewer, who has a genius for setting the scene (“Outside the canon of modern literature, like an oriole outside a cage of moulting linnets, “Isak Dinesen” offers to her readers the unending satisfaction of the tale told”), and who clearly chose and shaped what he reported of the talk. So after class, I looked up Eugene Walter. Doesn’t he turn out to be a fascinating fellow, all by himself?


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