Dead Interviews: Living Writers Meet Dead Icons

Dan Crowe

Dead Interviews: Living Writers Meet Dead Icons
Granta Books
United Kingdom
1 December 2013

Dead Interviews: Living Writers Meet Dead Icons

Dan Crowe

These ingenious interviews will amuse, provoke and delight.

Veering from the intensely serious to the wildly silly, Dead Interviews grants writers the chance to sit down with their heroes and flex their cerebral muscles, or simply indulge in some bookish gossip with a deceased icon. Pitch-perfect mimesis meets razor sharp literary criticism in the book that refuses to let dead writers lie.

The contributors: Rick Moody on Jimi Hendrix, Cynthia Ozick on Henry James, Douglas Coupland on Andy Warhol, Sam Leith on John Berryman, Geoff Dyer on Friedrich Nietzsche, A. M. Homes on Richard Nixon, David Mitchell on Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, John Burnside on Rachel Carson, ZZ Packer on Monsieur de Saint-George, Michel Faber on Marcel Duchamp, Rebecca Miller on the Marquis de Sade, Ian Rankin on Arthur Conan Doyle and Joyce Carol Oates on Robert Frost.


The idea of talking with the dead as a form of literary conceit has been with us for centuries. Dan Crowe proffers Dialogues of the Dead by Lucian of Samosata (c.125–80) as the first evidence of this kind of writing. We all talk with the dead, Crowe suggests, seeking solace, answers and revelations.

Many of the stories in this collection of fictionalised interviews with deceased writers and other icons have been published previously in Crowe’s literary quarterly, Zembla, while others were commissioned exclusively for this book. The title ‘Zembla’ was lifted from Nabokov’s Pale Fire, described here as ‘a perfect fusion of tradition, reflection, literary playfulness and distortion’, and the stories in Dead Interviews are certainly rife with these last two.

Cynthia Ozick asks Henry James intrusive questions he’s not prepared to answer, especially not to a feminist. David Mitchell interviews both Samuel Johnson and Johnson’s biographer James Boswell, while William Blake makes a cheeky cameo appearance. Andy Warhol appears as dithering in death as in life in Douglas Coupland’s entry.

It’s revealing to see how each writer has worked with the concept, and some stories will charm more than others. John Burnside’s interview with Rachel Carson was particularly moving; her ideas still resonate, given our continued environmental destruction and political framework, and I’ve now added Carson’s Silent Spring to my reading list. Z.Z. Packer’s enlightening interview with the ‘black Mozart’ and inspiration for d’Artagnan, Monsieur de Saint-George, had me reaching for the history books and revisiting Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.

Joyce Carol Oates refreshingly broke the Q&A formation favoured by all other contributors and elevated this collection with her inspired piece on Robert Frost, whom we meet seemingly dozing with a ‘scribble of saliva on his mouth’. In some respects this is an odd idea for a collection, and at times it’s a little patchy, but it’s a wild plunge among the dead, into a curious world where history has been inventively revisited by some of our finest writers.

Deborah Crabtree

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