7 Essential Literary Interviews

When we learn about an author, we understand more about his or her work. That’s why readers can’t get enough of literary interviews! Through these seven iconic interviews, some of history’s greatest authors and poorest liars stay with us forever. These captured moments are each required reading (or listening/viewing) for any true fan of literature.

Raymond Chandler, 1958 (Interviewed by Ian Fleming)

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This is a two-for-one deal, because legendary crime writer Raymond Chandler is being interviewed by spy novelist extraordinaire Ian Fleming. The conversation between the two men is fascinating. This is also the only known recording of Raymond Chandler’s voice.


F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1936

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Edited version

By 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s glamorous lifestyle had caught up with him. Injured and miserable at 40, he gave an interview to a reporter from the New York Post. The result is iconic and haunting. At times, it’s hard to believe that this is the same man who wrote The Great Gatsby.


James Frey, 2006

Full transcript

In 2005, James Frey was riding high. His memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was chosen by Oprah’s Book Club and became a monster bestseller. It topped the New York Times bestseller list for months.

Then, in 2006, everything changed. The Smoking Gun, a gossip and news website, published an investigation of Frey’s claims in his “memoir.” It turned out that he had made a lot of it up.

For the second time, Frey found himself on Oprah’s set. The 2006 interview, however, was very different from his first visit. The entire segment is uncomfortable, and the memory of Frey’s fall from grace has already outlived his literary fame.


Ken Kesey, 1966

When Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was arrested for possession of marijuana in 1965, he fled the country. He returned months later, and was promptly sent to jail. Kesey answers a few questions about his perspective on the incident in this short, impromptu 1966 interview. His attitude and beliefs are emblematic of the 1960s counterculture that he was such an essential part of. The girl in the video is Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia, who later married (and divorced) Grateful Dead singer Jerry Garcia.


Harper Lee, 1964

Full interview

Harper Lee is famously reclusive. She hasn’t spoken to a journalist in more than 50 years, declining every request for an interview. But Harper Lee has been interviewed – once.

In 1964, not long after To Kill a Mockingbird was published and the same year that the film version was released, Harper Lee sat down with Roy Newquist. The interview can be found in Newquist’s book Counterpoint, but it’s also hiding in a few places online – including in the link above.


J.K. Rowling, 1998

“Will there be many more Harry Potter books?” the interviewer earnestly asks in this low-fi 1998 Scottish television piece. At the time of this interview, the second book in the series had not yet been released and the idea of Harry Potter movies was pure speculation. This is a fascinating interview from a pivotal moment in Rowling’s career.


John Steinbeck, 1952

In this interview, Steinbeck discusses his most famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath, a little more than a dozen years after its publication. Steinbeck seems to join in the optimism of the American 1950s, remarking on how far the country has come since the depression. Steinbeck himself went further in the years that followed, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature a decade later.

Featured image courtesy of NY Daily News