Hank Nuwer in Cuba, photo by Malgorzata Wroblewska-Nuwer
INTERVIEWS with Authors, Poets and Artists
Hank Nuwer Q and A with Maurice Sendak
Hank Nuwer’s Conversation with Angelo Pizzo (Hoosiers, Rudy)
Hank Nuwer Feature Article: Elbert Hubbard and the Roycroft Movement
Hank Nuwer Q and A with Kurt Vonnegut
Hank Nuwer Short Column: Poet and Angler Ron Rash
Hank Nuwer Q and A: Finding Deliverance with author and poet James Dickey
Hank Nuwer Q and A with Native American artist Fritz Scholder
Writing for Children: Hank Nuwer interview with Rebecca Dotlich — Rebecca Dotlich
Hank Nuwer interview with poet and novelist and gourmet Jim Harrison
Photo: Mary de Rachewiltz, Olga Rudge; EzraPound Appreciation by Hank Nuwer
Hank Nuwer edit of Mary de Rachewiltz–Comments on her Father Ezra Pound–Link at Rendezvous
Hank Nuwer Q & A: Enjoy an interview with William Least Heat Moon discussing Blue Highways
Hank Nuwer Q & A with Mystery Writer Paul Engleman
Interview with Shane’s Jack Schaefer
A Conversation at Chicago’s Drake Hotel between David Mamet and Hank Nuwer below:
“A Life in the Theatre”
David Mamet Interview with Hank Nuwer
Previously published in full in the South Carolina Review and Rendezvousing with Contemporary Writers by Hank Nuwer
Place of interview: Chicago
Year of interview: 1984.
Interviewed at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, David Mamet strikes his interviewer as athletic, energetic and a lover of debate and snappy one-liners. Mamet grabs the $6 check for tea.
Hank Nuwer: A memorable line from your play The Water Engine states, “The Mind of man is less perturbed by a mystery it cannot explain than by an explanation it cannot understand.” Would you say that your plays deepen the mysteries of life?
David Mamet: I don’t think so. I think the purpose of theater is not to deepen the mysteries of life but to celebrate the mysteries of life. That’s what a good play does, and that’s what a good play has done for ten thousand years.
Hank Nuwer: Your purpose is not to try to explain the mysteries?
David Mamet: You can’t explain them; that’s why they’re mysteries. The purpose of the theater is not primarily to deal with social issues; it’s to deal with spiritual issues.
Hank Nuwer: St. Paul said that one must put away the things of a child when manhood is reached. Does it seem to you that making a living out of creating theater in effect allows you to continue playing with the things of a child?
David Mamet: I don’t think they’re the things of a child at all. It[the theater] is the most essential aspect of modern life. What is missing from modern life is spirituality–the connection to the greater truths of the universe. What is missing is the feeling of knowing our place and a sense of belonging. It’s the theater’s job to address the questions of What is our place in the universe?” and “How can we live in a world in which we know we’re going to die?”
Hank Nuwer: What is the premise behind Glengarry Glen Ross?
David Mamet: This play is very much about work and about how one is altered by one’s job.
Hank Nuwer: The main characters are real estate salesmen whose job is peddling worthless property. Are you dumping on such salesmen?
David Mamet: I don’t write plays to dump on people. I write plays about people whom I love and am fascinated by. A lot of times I want to write letters to newspapers to dump on people, but, gratefully, I can usually resist that impulse.
Hank Nuwer: Glengarry Glen Ross’s characters are all frustrated in their struggles to attain success. Are you optimistic that an individual can get what he wants out of life?
David Mamet: Sure. The only person who can get what he wants is the individual man. You can’t do it as a race; you can’t do it as a culture. In the theater an individual has to come to terms with what he wants and how capable he is of getting it. Making peace with the gods–that’s what drama is all about.
Hank Nuwer: The sales manager in Glengarry never regards his salesmen as human beings. Can you say you hold no dislike for him?
David Mamet: I felt he was doing his job–doing the job of asales manager. The job of a sales manager is not to empathize. Irrespective of whether or not it’s a “good” job or whether he likes his job is not the point; his job is to inspire, frighten, tempt, cajole, and do any other thing he can do to increase sales. When things fall apart he indulges in the very human propensity to play catch-up ball; because people have been abusing him throughout the play.
Hank Nuwer: At a given time how many ideas for plays lie dormant in your notebooks?
David Mamet: Always a few–between two and three or four and five. It’s easier to come up with ideas than execute them. I have millions of ideas in my trunk. They’re not good for anything but ballast.
Hank Nuwer: Do you like to read biographies of other writers and playwrights–Eugene O’Neill perhaps?
David Mamet: No, after all, everybody had a childhood. I take that back. I did like Ted Morgan’s biography of [W. Somerset] Maugham.
Hank Nuwer: Are you a voracious reader, however? What about your contemporaries? What playwrights today do you admire?
David Mamet: I read everything. I’ll read this table if there’s nothing else to read. There are several of my contemporaries I’m very impressed by. My particular taste runs from Richard Nelson and Romulus Linney to John Guare and David Hare.
Hank Nuwer: Are you a good self-editor?
David Mamet: Oh, yeah.
Hank Nuwer: Does your [then] wife [actress Lindsay Crouse] ever edit what you write?
David Mamet: Oh, she’s a much, much better editor than I am. When it comes to prose, she’s the real thing. She’s my best editor. My wife had a classical education in New York and at Radcliife.
Hank Nuwer: Can you reveal a bit about your lifestyle with your wife? Maybe give a voyeuristic tour of your home perhaps?
David Mamet: We live in Vermont in an old house–a simple farmhouse with simple furniture, soap on the sink and a small alarm clock on the mantelpiece. Basically, it’s a city boy’s dream.
Hank Nuwer: Anything else?
David Mamet: I don’t want to talk about my personal life. [Chuckles]. I came to talk about me.
Hank Nuwer: Are you concerned about your public image and stature as a playwright?
David Mamet: All those things are really secondary. The older I get the more I like to think about my life than [about] my career. I am a writer; I write for a living. I have a certain high profile for the moment; that seems to be the how the universe has turned. My job is to write; it’s not unpleasant by any means. I’ve always been interested in what’s happening about me–that’s what I write about. I don’t do quote-unquote research.
Hank Nuwer: Would you rather discover a truth out of your own mind or your own experiences?
David Mamet: Well, to discover a truth is to have it come out of your own mind. It’s not an objective reality. The line between seeing someone do something in a restaurant and imagining what their motives might have been and seeing someone almost do something in a restaurant is not that great. It’s a matter of perception. Finally, writing is expressing perception about the way things are irrespective of whether or not you’ve seen things concretely be that way.
Hank Nuwer: Ever act out any destructive impulses?
David Mamet: Oh yeah–going to work for a living and satisfying the impulse to stay in school. I was never much of a student.
Hank Nuwer: How do you feel about all that lost energy of the [Nineteen-] Sixties that seems to have found few authentic voices out of all that potential?
David Mamet: Depression. Obviously it wasn’t enough to be angry at the way the world was. The important thing about the Sixties is the same thing that Christ was telling us two thousand years ago. It’s not our job to change the world. It’s our job to act according to precepts we perceive to be right.
Hank Nuwer: Do you feel your end has been preshaped by destiny?
David Mamet: Destiny shapes everybody’s end. Don Marquis said that the ultimate reconciliation of the free world and the doctrine of predestination is that man is free to choose whatever he wants–and that whatever he chooses to do will turn out wrong. [Laughter].
Hank Nuwer: Is there anything you have trouble tolerating?
David Mamet: As Mr. Wilde said, “I can stand anything but discomfort.”
Hank Nuwer: Would you have been an equal success in some other field?
David Mamet: I think so. I’ve always been driven. I’ve read about a lot of hustlers with admiration, I think, because in moments of stress I lack those skills which I can write about.
Hank Nuwer: Was the Midwest a good place to grow up?
David Mamet: The Midwest was a great place to grow up, especially for a writer. It nurtures virtues which are good for a writer, at least for me and many twentieth century writers: keep your eyes open, your mouth closed, work hard, be a part of the community, and tell the truth.
Hank Nuwer: The South is said by writer Barry Hannah to like its writers dead or away. What about Chicago? Do you feel appreciated in your hometown?
David Mamet: Oh yeah, very much so. Chicago’s always been the best town in the country for writers. Chicago’s always honored its writers, and the best writers always came to Chicago.
Hank Nuwer: While you were growing up, did you have an imaginary friend similar to the one you call Rain Boy in Dark Pony?
David Mamet: Basically, that’s what a politician is to grown-up people–an imaginary friend. We endow them with the qualities of perceptiveness, strength and caring. They frighten us that they might withdraw their love. Doctors are imaginary friends [too]. We endow them with curative powers–endow them with a concern they don’t really have. The same is true of the legal profession. [Grins]. Plays are very real friends. Nina, in Chekhov’s The Seagull , over the years has attained real reality for us. If you read War and Peace fifteen times, the people in War and Peace become your imaginary friends. In the illusion we see something of ourselves and it supplies something we need.
Hank Nuwer: Do you have any diversions to speak of that interest you?
David Mamet: I have diverse and sundry hobbies that keep me from my work.
Hank Nuwer: Are you ever bored watching actors mouth your lines?
David Mamet: I’m never bored watching actors, especially in rehearsal. You see them do things that break your heart all the time.
Hank Nuwer: Do you notice any difference in audiences in, say, Chicago as opposed to New York, as opposed to London?
David Mamet: No, not a lot. I think audiences are basically the same all over. It helps not to have an audience prejudiced against one for whatever reason. In Chicago we prize the virtues of continuity. The Goodman [Theater] audience knows it is going to see something that has a modicum of integrity to it because they’re familiar with the playwright’s previous work. This means that they’re going to be relaxed when they come to the theater. But this doesn’t mean I cultivate a specific audience.
Hank Nuwer: Do you work well when you need to flatten back your ears and rework a play just before its opening?
David Mamet: Oh, sure. That’s when I work best. It’s instant gratification. Someone will say to you, “You did that in a half-hour?” and you’ll shrug [and say], “Oh yeah, yeah!”; [Laughter]. Most plays I’m rewriting until the critics come and sometimes thereafter. Many times an audience will help figure how to get a play right. You might think there is something they might not understand and so you’re overly clear about it. If they understand before your explanation is over, you’re ruining your play. You’ve got to cut that explanation. Or, there might be a point to you that it’s clear to you but unclear to them. That point has to be clarified.
Hank Nuwer: Ever look in the mirror and imagine your hair receding and wrinkles everywhere to figure out what kind of “Grand Old Man of the Theater” you’d make?
David Mamet: I always thought I’d be a great “Grand Old Man of the Theater”; I look forward to being a crusty yet kind-hearted curmudgeon.
Hank Nuwer: Let’s say you’ve been invited to write your own epitaph for your death some time late next century. What would you write?
David Mamet: I think all of us would like to write our own. We’d tell everyone the same thing: “I told you that you were going to miss me.”
Nuwer, Hank. “Mark Steadman’s Comedy of Ethos.” Mark Steadman
Hank Nuwer Interview with Louis LAmour_Renaissance Cowman: How the West Was Written
Hank Nuwer Q and A with poet Henry Taylor
Herbert Gold interview: Herbert Gold
Hank Nuwer interview with John Jakes
Galway Kinnell interview Galway Kinnell
Journalist Pat O’Driscoll Patrick O’Driscoll, Pat O’Driscoll
Hank Nuwer interview with poet Thom Gunn
On September 16, 1988, Hank Nuwer delivered a casual talk on “Tom Wolfe and the Agrarians” at the Tom Wolfe Symposium. Here is the address at that symposium delivered by Tom Wolfe
Sports Stories and Profiles of Sport Heroes
Timely Writer, a Doomed but Legendary Racehorse
New York Yankees pitcher Ronald Ames Guidry Ron Guidry
Hank Nuwer Profile: Kansas City star George Brett
Call Him MISTER Billy Tubbs
Hank Nuwer Profiles Olympic legend Carl Lewis
Feature: Olympic runner Carl Lewis: PDF Link
Football Coach Bill Walsh interview. Conducted in San Francisco with Bill Walsh
Hank Nuwer in the Montreal Expos farm camp
Hank Nuwer on Baseball and His Chance at the Not-So-Big Time–Men, Dreams and Baseball
Hank Nuwer: Tributes
One Long Wild Conversation: Fraser Drew (Fraser Bragg Drew)
Doc: a Tribute to the late Louis (Lou) Ingelhart
To a Hunter Dying Young
Requiem for a Body Shop Guy
Short Columns by Hank Nuwer
Trout Fishing in Indiana???
The Big Awfully Bad Whopper I Told My Father