An Interview With Fiction Writer Don DeLillo

by Diane Osen

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Online Only, posted 8.16.02

Don DeLillo is the author of twelve novels, including White Noise, Libra, Underworld, Mao II, and most recently, The Body Artist. He has won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction, the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award, and the Jerusalem Prize. He was born in 1936 and grew up in the Bronx.

The following is an excerpt from an interview with DeLillo which will appear in The Book That Changed My Life edited by Diane Osen, forthcoming from Modern Library in September.

Diane Osen: How is it that you became a writer?

Don DeLillo: It's a bit of a mystery, because I didn't write at all as a child, and I did not do much reading, either. I liked to play. The minute I got out of school I started playing street games, card games, alley games, rooftop games, fire escape games, punch ball, stickball, handball, stoop ball, and a hundred other games. I read comic books and I listened to the radio. No one read to anyone else at home. That's why we had the radio; the radio read to us all.

In high school, I'd occasionally pick up a book that was not part of a school assignment. I remember reading I Escaped from Devil's Island. I remember reading Bram Stoker's Dracula. And my memories of these books have a physical quality. I can still see the broken type in the small brown hardcover copy of Dracula, and I can still see the sun-browned pages of the paperback version of Devil's Island.

Eventually, I began to read a number of contemporary American writers. I read James T. Farrell-The Studs Lonigan Trilogy. I read most of Hemingway and Faulkner. I read the short stories of Flannery O'Connor in the collection A Good Man is Hard to Find. A little later I read The Complete Poems of Hart Crane in a paperback edition I still have-ninety-five cents. I suppose this period of my life as a reader culminated with James Joyce's Ulysses.

I wrote some short stories in my late teens and through most of my twenties-haphazardly. I did not have a strong sense of writerly ambition. I was about two years into my first novel, Americana, when it occurred to me that I could conceivably be a writer.

© 2002 The National Book Foundation.