Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawk’s star running back, is famous for his desire to avoid sitting and answering the media’s questions. Hostility to the media is common among people whose fame relies on it, but it is not restricted to athletes. There are plenty of literary figures who detest the probes of inquiring minds — think of semi-recluses like Thomas Pynchon, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee.
We understand the need for solitude and control in the case of creative types, and honor it. Authors, however, also play in a public arena, usually less raucous than a football stadium but still often a circus of distractions. With a unique soul like Lynch — an artist of the running game — maybe we should cut him some slack. Think of him as Emily Dickinson in shoulder pads.
The saga of Lynch puts me in mind of another popular semi-recluse whose work was beloved by millions and who enjoyed the fruits of adoration — and its monetary rewards — but loathed interviews and fuss. In 1995, I was tapped to interview this man, the author Patrick O’Brian, beloved for his series of Napoleanic era sea stories, the so-called Aubrey/Maturin novels. They have been described as the successors to the works of C. S. Forester, or as “Jane Austen-at-sea.”
. . . .
O’Brian was an intensely private man who lived and wrote in relative obscurity in the south of France near the Spanish border, where he’d moved from Britain in the late 1940s.
. . . .
In 1995 he went on a U.S. book tour arranged by his New York publisher, W.W. Norton. He would hit only a few select cities — Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, New York and some others. The format was on-stage interviews — not your usual bookshop signings. I was tapped to interview him on stage in the two Northwest cities on that tour, Seattle and Portland.
. . . .
I was made more nervous because I knew that O’Brian hated interviews on principle. A few years before, he had told Francis X. Clines of the New York Times that “Question-and-answer is not civilized.” He also asserted the right to keep his private life private. O’Brian, a man of culture, high literary achievement, a close friend of people like Pablo Picasso and Simone de Beauvoir and whose work was consider by some to be on the level of Austen’s, was being sent forth into America to capitalize on his success, yet in a format that he considered by definition to be barbaric.
. . . .
I decided to approach the interview with O’Brian from a slightly unexpected angle. His fans would want to hear about his Aubrey/Maturin books. Most were unfamiliar with his other works. So I figured, if I came at O’Brian with something fresh, he might find it fun to talk about, before we slid into the hardcore fan stuff. I began by asking him about his relationship with Picasso — O’Brian had written an excellent biography of the artist and had known him well. We also talked about his biography of the British naturalist Sir. Joseph Banks. I appealed to his ego, to the historical substance of his work, and by this route we managed to get through potentially rough waters and into the friendly sea of a wonderful conversation.
. . . .
How do you protect that inner fire that makes you who you are, that helps you create or perform in a way others describe as genius? O’Brian managed to do it for decades, until his fame hit a critical mass. I’m sure he loved parts of it — on this visit to North America, he was able to acquire a narwhal tusk and some first editions of Jane Austen that he treasured. Fame had its rewards. But it also disrupted the bubble of privacy and quiet that he had cultivated for so many productive years — that had helped to make the reclusive, private O’Brian a literary star.
Link to the rest at Crosscut and thanks to Ryan for the tip.