Last fall, Cynthia Ozick sat down with Roger Rosenblatt for our Afternoon Night Table series. In 2008, Cynthia Ozick published a new collection of stories, Dictation (recently released in paperback), and won both the PEN/Malumud Award and PEN/Nabokov Award for lifetime achievement. Also a novelist and critic, Ms. Ozick “embodies literature’s finest potential: the strength and rigor of formality combined with the flexibility and vigor (the sap) of creativity,” wrote the Los Angeles Times.
In the video above, we hear Cynthia talk about seeking fame as a writer, writing fiction about the Holocaust, Norman Mailer, the future of fiction, using computers for research and writing ("Where did these computers come from?") and other topics. On fame, she says:
Fame is pursued, and recognition is accrued...think of Norman Mailer if you can bear it. Here’s someone who pursued fame like mad, all these shenanigans going on decade after decade. Then think of Marilynne Robinson, and Alice Munro, and Steven Millhauser and Steven Stern. Beautiful writers who are consistent, year after year, writing quietly, and then this recognition through the merit of the work accrues...This is done through diligence...without shenanigans and pursuit. So there does come a time when recognition without effort becomes true fame.
At about 4:10 in the video, Roger starts to recall the power of a story Cynthia wrote about a woman in the camps who wrapped her baby in a shawl, a baby who later died at the hands of a guard. Cynthia politely interjects and continues to tell the story herself, confiding that she had a “bad feeling about having written something which I made up, when there are so many true stories that happened.” On the importance of making the distinction between fiction and non-fiction work, particularly in writing about the Holocaust, Cynthia said:
I think it’s absolutely vital, because of Holocaust denial, which has declared that so much of this is fiction. So it’s absolutely imperative to know the difference between fiction and non-fiction...to know that one thing is not another thing. And that fiction is definitely not non-fiction.
Sanctuary from Hell: Belgian Nuns Who Saved Holocaust Children with Suzanne Vromen: May 14