Why Robert Stone Writes

The National Book Award-winning author picks up the pen in order to locate himself. It’s the same reason, he says, that smart people must continue to read.
  • Transcript


Question: Why do you write?

Robert Stone: I don't feel I ever had a choice. The only thing that I could ever do that signified for me was write stories, invent people, invent situations because that was the way I made sense of the world. I did it and I do it because I have to do it in order to see where I'm standing; in order to find out where I am at any given time.

And also, because I think there's a service involved in working well as an artist. I think this is – I hope this is not too much of a claim, well I don't think it is too much of a claim. I think you serve by working, I think any artist that works conscientiously and does it as well as they can is furthering consciousness to some small degree, and that service.

So, I do it because I need to do it, and also because I believe that it's service and you need to do something beyond serving yourself.

Question: What books would you recommend to non-book readers?

Robert Stone: I think that if these are people who are capable of a literary experience, unless they've got themselves in some shape where they just can't do it, they can't have a literary experience because they've cut themselves off, or they've made themselves too dumb, or whatever – and this tragically can happen, I think – there's a literary experience out there of some kind for every intelligent, thoughtful person. There is something that will catch hold of them and I think you have to know the person and maybe you can guess what they would like, but I think there is something for everybody out there. I mean, literature is necessary. You need stories. I mean, you absolutely need them. You can't locate yourself. People need stories and they need the beauty of language.

Or language can uglify. I mean, a language that kind of is debased – is always being debased, whether it is on the street or by media demigods, if the language gets ugly or it gets debased, it loses its meaning, and everything that's good about language, that's youthful about language, gets cheapened. It becomes a weapon of deceit for the Rush Limbaughs of the world. It just becomes some kind of dross.

Recorded December 9, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen