"Surely talent is required?" the Interviewer asked.


Selected from interviews with The Paris Review's The Art of Fiction column, Kurt Vonnegut debunks the somewhat modern myths on the talent and vocation of writing.


INTERVIEWER

Surely talent is required?

VONNEGUT

…I was a Saab dealer on Cape Cod for a while, and I enrolled in their mechanic’s school, and they threw me out of their mechanic’s school. No talent.

INTERVIEWER

How common is storytelling talent?

VONNEGUT

In a creative writing class of twenty people anywhere in this country, six students will be startlingly talented. Two of those might actually publish something by and by.

INTERVIEWER

What distinguishes those two from the rest?

VONNEGUT

They will have something other than literature itself on their minds. They will probably be hustlers, too. I mean that they won’t want to wait passively for somebody to discover them. They will insist on being read.

INTERVIEWER

You have been a public relations man and an advertising man—

VONNEGUT

Oh, I imagine.

INTERVIEWER

Was this painful? I mean—did you feel your talent was being wasted, being crippled?

VONNEGUT

No. That’s romance—that work of that sort damages a writer’s soul. At Iowa, Dick Yates and I used to give a lecture each year on the writer and the free-enterprise system. The students hated it. We would talk about all the hack jobs writers could take in case they found themselves starving to death, or in case they wanted to accumulate enough capital to finance the writing of a book. Since publishers aren’t putting money into first novels anymore, and since the magazines have died, and since television isn’t buying from young freelancers anymore, and since the foundations give grants only to old poops like me, young writers are going to have to support themselves as shameless hacks. Otherwise, we are soon going to find ourselves without a contemporary literature. There is only one genuinely ghastly thing hack jobs do to writers, and that is to waste their precious time.

Read the full series of interviews here.