Interview by Harold K. Bush, Jr.
"It's All a Mystery"
Born in 1936 and raised by Italian American immigrants in the Fordham section of the Bronx, Don DeLillo is one of the preeminent American novelists of his generation. His eighth novel, White Noise (1985), was a breakthrough both commercially and artistically for DeLillo, earning him the National Book Award and a place in the academic canon of contemporary authors. White Noise was followed by a string of highly acclaimed works, including Libra (1988), Mao II (1991), Underworld (1997), and, most recently, Point Omega (2010). Hal Bush talked with DeLillo at Saint Louis University, where he received the St. Louis Literary Award in October 2010.
When did you start thinking of yourself as a writer, and what you got started as a writer?
I wrote some short stories in my early twenties and sent them to magazines, and to my amazement, when I was around 23, one of these stories was accepted. It stunned me, I remember receiving a letter in the mail. And I wanted to say, "Wait a minute. I was only kidding, I can do better." That was my immediate response. And the story was published. But I didn't get around to working on my first novel until quite a while later, for reasons that are not so easy to explain. I was living under ideal circumstances for a writer: I lived very cheaply; I quit my job, I was free; I was paying 60 dollars a month rent; and I was going to the movies instead of writing. Eventually I realized the importance of working every day—I'm not sure why it took me so long, but eventually it happened. And I was two years into my first novel when it occurred to me that I was a writer. That's when I knew. I was perfectly willing to believe that this novel would never get published, because I was writing in the dark, in many ways, but I was learning things about writing that I hadn't realized before. And it happened—I am not exaggerating—a little like a revelation. I remember where I was, which street I was on, walking along, when I knew I would be a writer, ...