Don DeLillo Reads At Writer´s Guild


FEATURE by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES -- Don DeLillo, whose new novel COSMOPOLIS was published recently, timed the book's appearance with a speaking engagement arranged by Writers Bloc at the Writers Guild Theatre. The informally clad, white-haired DeLillo read selections from various books and stories of his, and even though he didn't identify these they managed to add up to a seamless whole, thanks to his clear, precise diction, distinct writing style and careful preparation.

Forty-five minutes later, Delilo took questions from the nearly-full house. No one else shared the stage with him, but he ran the show effortlessly by himself, exhibiting admirable composure and quick-wittedness. Here are just a few of the comments he made:

--We have entered a new era; the cold war has given way to an age of terror. Terror is now the world narrative, unquestionably. When the WTC buildings were struck, and when they collapses, it was, in effect, an extraordinary blow to consciousness, and it changed everything.

--Some acts are so extreme, so beyond our comprehension, that they cannot be contained. In Prague recently, a young man set himself on fire. Thirty-five years ago, another young man did the same thing, protesting the incursion of Soviet tanks into Prague. This kid did it to protest the excesses of capitalism. In 35 years, this is the terrible symmetry that's taken place.

After more comments on the relationship between art and terror, DeLillo answered questions on other, unrelated topics.

--Dialogue. He handles it differently from book to book. Some times he uses naturalism; other times he opts for more stylized delivery, the way Hemingway did. There is no such thing as realistic dialogue; novelists can't help making things up.

-- Science. It has always been a big influence on him, but he doesn't read as much in the field as he did before.

-- NAMES he wrote while living on a Greek island, which was a positive experience for him as he felt he had to get out of his "New York complacency." It was good for him to deal with new experiences, language, customs, food.

--Editors. He has never had an unsympathetic editor and if he were stuck with one, he would "have to kill him."

--Hollywood. His book UNDERWORLD was optioned for three years by Hollywood, but he doubts whether a film will be made from it because it's impossible to make a screen version of the entire 500-page story. Speaking further about the book, he confided that he never made an outline for it, just kept the whole thing in his head. He started UNDERWORLD with a 1951 Giants-Dodger game, then had a revelation to jump ahead 40 years in the next chapter. The book took him 5 years to write. Sometimes he had moments of true inspiration, other times he could only write in bits and pieces, but in the struggle to finish the book he "rediscovered the pleasure of writing."

Coming up at Writers Bloc: April Smith (Good Morning Killer) interviewed by Bob Crais, May 7 at the Museum of Intolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd. On May 16 Margaret Atwood; May 22, Erica Jong with Anne Taylor Fleming. Call (310) 335-0917 or visit