November 12, 1997 (Wednesday) at 8:00 p.m.From The Paris Review, Fall 1993, No. 128
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Don DeLillo gained recognition and established himself as a brilliant writer with his debut novel Americana (1971) followed by End Zone (1972), a book ostensibly about football but in reality concerned with the growing corruption of language and life in America. Often tackling major milieus and events of American culture and portraying the chaos of society, DeLillo continued with the well-received novels Great Jones Street (19973) about the world of rock stars and the drug culture, Ratner's Star (1976), a science fiction novel, and Players (1977), where he takes on the subject of terrorism. In the 1977 review in Washington Post Book World on Players, reviewer William Kennedy called DeLillo "a spectacular talent, supremely witty and a natural story-teller."
DeLillo's most recent works include Libra (1988), a novel which raises questions about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Mao II (1991) which explores the relationship between terrorists and writers, and White Noise (1994)
"DeLillo has an ear for specialized language, and the satirical possibilities therein, that most novelists should be willing to kill for.. ." - Amanda Heller in Atlantic Monthly on Ratner's Star
"DeLillo's attention to detail is masterful. . .the wit, elegance and economy of Don DeLillo's art are equal to the bitter clarity of his perceptions." - Diane Johnson, New York Times Book Review on Players
". . .visionary novel and a major triumph of the imagination." - G. M. Knoll on End Zone
Paris Review: Tell me about the research you did for Libra.
Don DeLillo: There were several levels of research--fiction writer's research. I was looking for ghosts, not living people. I went to New Orleans, Dallas, Fort Worth and Miami and looked at houses and streets and hospitals, schools and libraries--this is mainly Oswald I'm tracking but others as well--and after a while the characters in my mind and in my notebooks came out into the world.
Then there were books, old magazines, old photographs, scientific reports, material printed by obscure presses, material my wife turned up from relatives in Texas. And a guy in Canada with a garage full of amazing stuff--audiotapes of Oswald talking on a radio program, audiotapes of his mother reading from his letters. And I looked at a film consisting of amateur footage shot in Dallas on the day of the assassination, crude powerful footage that included the Zapruder film. And there were times when I felt an eerie excitement, coming across an item that seemed to bear out my own theories. Anyone who enters this maze knows you have to become part scientist, novelist, biographer, historian and existential detective. The landscape was crawling with secrets, and this novel-in-progress was my own precious secret--I told very few people what I was doing.
Then there was The Warren Report, which is the Oxford English Dictionary of the assassination and also the Joycean novel. This is one document that captures the full richness and madness and meaning of the event, despite the fact that it omits about a ton and a half of material. I'm not an obsessive researcher, and I think I read maybe half of The Warren Report, which totals twenty-six volumes. There are acres of FBI reports I barely touched. But for me the boring and meaningless stretches are part of the experience. This is what a life resembles in its starkest form--school records, lists of possessions, photographs of knotted string found in a kitchen drawer. It took seven seconds to kill the president, and we're still collecting evidence and sifting documents and finding people to talk to and working through the trivia. The trivia is exceptional. When I came across the dental records of Jack Ruby's mother I felt a surge of admiration. Did they really put this in? The testimony of witnesses was a great resource--period language, regional slang, the twisted syntax of Marguerite Oswald and others as a kind of improvised genius and the lives of trainmen and stripteasers and telephone clerks. I had to be practical about this, and so I resisted the urge to read everything.