A man who’s been called “the chief shaman of the paranoid school of American fiction” can be expected to act a little nervous.
I met Don DeLillo for the first time in an Irish restaurant in Manhattan, for a conversation he said would be “deeply preliminary.” He is a slender man, gray haired, with boxy brown glasses. His eyes, magnified by thick lenses, are restless without being shifty. He looks to the right, to the left; he turns his head to see what’s behind him.
But his edgy manner has nothing to do with anxiety. He’s a disciplined observer searching for details. I also discovered after many hours of interviewing spread out over several days—a quick lunch, a visit some months later to a midtown gallery to see an Anselm Kiefer installation, followed by a drink at a comically posh bar—that DeLillo is a kind man, generous and thoughtful, qualities incompatible with the reflexive wariness of the paranoid. He is not scared; he is attentive. His smile is shy, his laugh sudden.
Don DeLillo’s parents came to America from Italy. He was born in the Bronx in 1936 and grew up there, in an Italian-American neighborhood. He attended Cardinal Hayes High School and Fordham University, where he majored in “communication arts,” and worked for a time as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising agency. He now lives just outside New York City with his wife.
Americana, his first novel, was published in 1971. It took him about four years to write. At the time he was living in a small studio apartment in Manhattan. After Americana the novels poured out in a rush: five more in the next seven years. End Zone (1972), Great Jones Street(1973), Ratner’s Star (1976), Players (1977), and Running Dog (1978) all received enthusiastic reviews. They did not sell well. The books were known to a small but loyal following.
Things changed in the eighties. The Names (1982) was more prominently reviewed than any previous DeLillo novel. White Noise (1985) won the National Book Award. Libra (1988) was a bestseller. Mao II, his latest, won the 1992 PEN/Faulkner Award. He is currently at work on a novel, a portion of which appeared in Harper’s under the title “Pafko at the Wall.” He has written two plays, The Engineer of Moonlight (1979) and The Day Room (1986).
This interview began in the fall of 1992 as a series of tape-recorded conversations. Transcripts were made from eight hours of taped material. DeLillo returned the final, edited manuscript with a note that begins, “This is not only the meat but the potatoes.”
Read full interview here
Be sure to schedule a 15-minute complimentary book coaching session via email: AuthorizeU@gmail.com. If we begin working together, my eBook—Writing From Life: A Wise Guide to Publishing Your Memoirs—will be yours as part of the coaching package.