his peers, Mailer and Bellow, the audience for Vidal's
writing has always been broad, extending beyond the
Academy to homemakers, vacationers and commuters.
In short, people who are not employed as literary
professionals read Gore Vidal in a way they don't,
for example, read John Barth. Gadfly approached
a variety of Vidal readers, including the editor of
The Yale Review and the founder of hardcore
music legend Hüsker Dü, to inquire, "If you could
ask Gore Vidal one question, what would it be?"
Here are their questions and Vidal's answers.—Richard
Identity Politics. You have written a number of historical
novels, or, at least, (researched) novels based more
or less on the lives of real people and treating real
historical events (e.g., Lincoln, Burr). If you were
to undertake to novelize the life of an actual woman
(Myra Breckinridge doesn't count), who would it be
and why?—Karen and Dana Kletter, musicians
Woman protagonist. Eleanor Roosevelt. I'm trying to
work her out now.
is the greater threat to the American democracy: the
zombified culture of mall and multiplex, or the self-righteous,
gay-bashing religious right?—J. D. McClatchy,
editor and poet
think the approaching economic crunch will undermine—or
bury, to complete your metaphor—the zombies.
I have a dream—that evangelical Christians return
to their catacombs and stay there and leave gay-bashing
to consenting adults. If I were [a] dictator, I'd
abolish Judaism, Christianity and Islam from public
life. These sick religions would, in a moderately
sane world where they may not proselytize, fade away.
do you think of Edmund White's fiction?—Alfred
praised publicly Nocturne for the King of Naples.
The "gay" fiction is good in its way but
why accept as category a non-category? There's only
you feel that your formidable public persona is significantly
different from the private Gore Vidal?—Dana
Gioia, poet and critic
are what you are. [Andre] Gide at the end of his life
said that the one thing that he most detested were
those who affected to be other than what they were
in truth. I have an over-developed sense of justice.
This means a lot of wrath which comedy alone can siphon
off. I was asked by a French reviewer of what I was
most proud. I said, considering my nature, that I
have never killed anyone. It is, of course, never
you could rescue one of your works from the wreck
of time, which would it be and why? Which of your
books do you think will be the most lasting?—Norman
Fruman, biographer and scholar
Groucho Marx so wisely said, what has posterity ever
done for me? You future freaks are on your own. The
one book of mine that I wish everyone in the world
would read is Creation. At great effort, I've
"explicated," in novel-form, Zoroaster,
the Buddha, Mahavira, Confucius, Lao Tse, Socrates...
all more or less contemporaries and one man could,
theoretically, have known them. I invented a Persian
ambassador of the Great King who did. Since these
figures are the ones from which our civilizations,
east and west, emerged, and we can never understand
the world as it is without knowing them, I've made,
in my way, a useful introduction.
there any historical figure that is too imposing for
you to write about? Why?—Steven Kotler,
suppose God because I don't believe in him. Anyway,
the wildly underestimated Joe Heller has done him
your standards, in terms of artists as self-created
people, at what point does the maintenance of a public
persona result in an artist who is formed by his environment
instead of by his talent? What is the cheapest cop-out
Gore Vidal could do?—Grant Hart, musician
cop-out? Show Tom Wolfe how to write a really big
bestseller with more knowing brandnames. Public persona?
See above, #5.
him how he'd go about writing an historical novel
set in Clinton's Washington. What would he focus on?
Who would tell the tale?—Thomas Mallon,
editor and essayist
To be called What Chelsea Knew.
do you think of novelists like Faulkner, Ellison,
Richard Ford, Joyce Carol Oates and Tom Wolfe, who
depict more than one racial or ethnic group in their
work? Do you think that is a challenging direction
for the future of American fiction?—Stanley
Crouch, essayist and critic
always has been the case since Huckleberry Finn. Our
mixture is some times painful for many of those in
the minority to live through but it makes Americans
a lot more interesting than, say, the Dutch, who are
happier and more civilized than we.
are a consistent and witty critic of the American
Empire. But if it weren't for the American Empire,
wouldn't your adopted home of Ravello be located today
in Bega, Germany?—Michael Lind, social
critic and poet
It would be a part—worst-case scenario—of
European Russia. The Germans were well and truly defeated
by Soviet ground troops, not by ours. Curiously, after
Yalta, it was the U.S. that betrayed every agreement
with the Russians, including allowing them some twenty
billion in reparations that they needed to rebuild
a wrecked economy. Thanks to the American empire,
I live in Ravello, USA, land of the ski-lift. But
not for much longer.
are you doing next? I'm a big fan of your historical
novels; I really liked Burr. Do you
have any more planned?—Tim O'Brien, novelist
serious a threat to democracy does the current, all-pervasive
corporate culture of America represent?—Anthony
answer that at great length—and still only partially—in
[the] November 1998 Vanity Fair. All media
and all politics are controlled by the great interlocking
corporations, and that is why we may never discuss
real politics as opposed to sex lives. What is real
politics? In one sentence: Who collects what money
from whom to give to whom to spend for what. This
is the question that may not be asked in a militarized
society where dissent is kept to the margins. Democracy?
A form of government the U.S. has never tried. We
began with a constitution created by well-to-do white
males to protect their property. Others were later
given the franchise but the original oligarchs and
their avatars are still in place and none dares challenge
there anything in Beat writing that scared you as
a writer when you first read Kerouac, Ginsberg and
Burroughs?—Ann Charters, critic
That they might get away with automatic writing and
put literature out of business entirely. I liked On
the Road. I liked the letters of Bill, much better
than the "novels." I liked Allen.
you could be born in any time period, which female
sovereign would you be?— John Cale, musician
Anne—with that hot Marlborough girl.
am a big fan of your work and read all of your books.
My question is: what do you think of the [Irish] peace
process?—Marianne Faithfull, musician
I'm a fan of yours. Our mutual friend Mick J. took
a film option on Kalki but our director, Hal
Ashby, sniffed himself out of our Ken and into Lucy
in the sky with diamonds. Ireland, Balkans, Israel—If
anyone doubts the sheer evil of monotheism in conflict
with itself, there are three examples. Ireland's new
prosperity and arrival in Europe should cool things
down. The Gores, my mother's family, are protestant
Irish with no sentimentality about their roots in
Donegal. But then we got out in the seventeenth century,
stone-headed protestants still at large in the old
about the Emperor Julian is pertinent in our time?—Annie
Finch, poet and critic
he nearly de-railed Christianity as the official religion
of the Roman empire, which would have saved us centuries
of religious wars, pogroms, autos da fe.
you see any similarities between a character like
Burr and a character like Julian? Even though they
lived in different times, is there anything that unites
them in your mind?—Lenny Kaye, musician
said no, emphatically, and each was demonized by those
who said yes unto the last generation.
the future, someone is writing an historical novel
in which you are the main character. What is the central
theme of your life?—Kelly Cherry, novelist
new ways of saying no.