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Myself and Strangers: A Memoir of Apprenticeshipby John Graves
Author Q & A
Q: You lived in Europe from late January 1953 through late July 1955, at which time the Spanish Civil War had not been over for very long. Could you sense any lingering effects from the war?
A: Yes, there were many noticeable lingering effects of the Spanish Civil War. A number of the Spaniards I came to know had fought on Franco's side, and many had lost family members. The bad economic condition of the country during my time there derived directly from that war and from Franco's support of the Germans during World War II, which caused victorious Allies to regard him as something of a pariah until America needed airbases in Spain during the Cold War.
Another prominent effect of the war was the near-absence, through death or exile, of the old Latin humanist element of the Peninsula, not only of those who had fought for the Republic but those who had sympathized with it, and many more or less unpolitical types whom the franquistas simply had not trusted.
Q: What impressions from these years stand out most in your mind?
I also recall my strong affinity for bullfights while I was there, though I have not seen any since that time.
Q: You are an intensely private person, even to the extent that you burned the diaries on which this book is based after you had mined them for excerpts, yet you chose to publish a deeply personal memoir of your formation as a man and as a writer. Why?
Q: I've noticed that despite your frequent references to the importance of friends in your life then and now, you often mention the relief of being alone, calling yourself a "lone wolf." Have you resolved that dilemma of your youth, "the matter of loneliness vs. the ennui of being too much with someone"?
Q: You describe another young American, Pryor, as "just back from combat in Korea and wandering around Europe alone in an effort to construct his civilian self." Was this motivation a part of your own decision to live abroad?
Q: Why do you think you caught the "writing bug"? Why were you so "desperately aspirant" to become a writer?
Q: It seems that even as a very young man, you always had a strong idea of apprenticing yourself to the writer's trade. How did you go about doing this? Would you suggest the same method to young aspiring writers today?
Q: Seeing Ernest Hemingway once at a cafe in Pamplona and again at Harry's Bar in Venice, you decided against introducing yourself both times. You made the same decision when given the opportunity to meet William Faulkner. Why?
I had in my mind a vague sort of catalog of established living writers, classified according to whether I would want to know them personally or not, and Hemingway, much as I admired his best work, was among the nots. I was always sure I would like Faulkner, even during one of his drinking spells, but I decided against using my note of introduction from his editor for the above reason.
Q: Even as a graduate student at Columbia you knew that you didn't want to stay long in New York. Why? Did you always intend to move back to Texas or did you consider remaining in Europe permanently?
Additionally, my kind of writing has never made me notably prosperous, nor have I expected it to do so. I remember thinking in the 1950s that you could live decently in New York on twenty thousand dollars a year, but I didn't have nearly that much income (today's equivalent would be about sixty thousand a year) at the time.
During most of the time covered in Myself and Strangers, I had no intention of returning to Texas. It was my background, but I was unwilling to live with its limitations. Ultimately I found it possible to live with the limitations without sharing them intimately, and I settled down in Texas for the rest of my life.
I did seriously consider staying in Spain. Madrid, unlike New York, was not an overwhelming city, but a pleasant, active place with lots of good people and things to see and do, and some of the places you could reach from there, like the Cantabrian coast, the Pyrenees, inland Andalusia, and the Gredos mountains, were unspoiled at the time and nearly devoid of tourists. The Balearics were building up to a tourist overload that has since become disastrous, but I liked them too, for the sea and the sailing.
However, my decision against remaining in Europe was linked to the writing and to the realization of the fact that if I stayed, my work would never be more than that of an alien observer. So I headed home, and home turned out to be Texas.
Q: How would you compare this new book and Goodbye to a River?
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