WRITERS ON WRITERS: EDMUND WHITE AND FRANCINE DU PLESSIX GRAY IN CONVERSATION WITH JAMES ATLAS

Benaroya Hall, Third and Union, 621-2230, $18-$15 $7.50/under 25, students

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The White album

Edmund White on writing biography, Parisian dining and the sex appeal of Shakespeare.

WRITERS ON WRITERS: EDMUND WHITE AND FRANCINE DU PLESSIX GRAY IN CONVERSATION WITH JAMES ATLAS

Benaroya Hall, Third and Union, 621-2230, $18-$15 $7.50/under 25, students 7:30 p.m. Tues., Jan. 15

TO SAY THAT Edmund White is the dean of gay literature, or one of the tireless chroniclers of the queer movement, is to reduce him to a status too provincial for someone so broad in scope. His fiction (the most well known of which is A Boy's Own Story) and cultural criticism aside, he's written a history of Paris (The Flaneur), a biography of Proust (Marcel Proust), and a biography of Jean Genet (Genet, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award). He's currently working on My Lives, a collection of autobiographical essays. The author, professor, and charming socialite brings his experience writing biography to a Seattle Arts & Lectures panel on that very subject. He's spent the last few months in London, Paris, Venice, and New York City (where he lives), and will arrive next week from Key West, where he was when we caught up with him.

Seattle Weekly: Who's due for a biography?

Edmund White: Any biographical subject you can think of has already been spoken for. The trick is now to do a bigger, better biography than anyone has ever done before. That's what Jean-Yves Tadie did for Proust and Judith Thurman did for Colette. Now Hermione Lee is working on what will be the definitive bio of Edith Wharton. I was lucky to be able to write the first biography of a major writer, Jean Genet, but opportunities like that don't present themselves more than once in a lifetime.

Who would you really like to write your biography?

I'd like Hermione Lee to write my biography, but I'm too small potatoes for her. But, then again, she's a better writer than most of the people she writes about.

How much work went into your biography of Genet?

Genet required seven years of research and a year of writing. The biography I wrote of Proust required no research (beyond the one lunch I had with the Princess Caraman-Chimay, whose grandmother was a model for [Proust's character] Oriane de Guermantes) and just six months of writing. I can't imagine ever writing another biography unless it was of a friend—or of friends. A group biography would be fascinating to do.

You wrote the Genet biography while living in Paris. How about a plug for your favorite Paris restaurant?

My favorite classy restaurant in Paris is Le Grand Vefour because it is the most beautiful one with Pompeian decorations on the wall. And because it already existed at the time of Balzac—or earlier—and there are chairs with names engraved on them like "Voltaire" and "George Sand."

What do you order there?

The fish is superb—also the cheeses. For ordinary grub in Paris, the best place is L'Auberge de Quincy, and the best dish there is the stuffed cabbage.

Who would you choose to play you in a movie of your life?

I want Toby Maguire to play the young me. My boyfriend, Michael Carroll, has written a screenplay based on A Boy's Own Story and is starting to show it around to directors and producers.

A Boy's Own Story, The Beautiful Room Is Empty, and The Farewell Symphony are technically fiction, but basically, those novels tell the story of your life. Are they a more "real" depiction of your life than a strict biography could be?

That trilogy is true to my inner life, but it plays fast and free with the facts of my life (the chronology, even the events). You could call the trilogy The Autobiography of My Feelings. But it's quite inaccurate at the same time. [As a boy] I was precocious sexually and intellectually, but the boy in A Boy's Own Story is timid and neither creative nor intellectual. As an adult, I have had many famous friends, but the narrator of The Farewell Symphony never drops a name. There are countless discrepancies like that, all in the interest of making the narrator more representative and the story more shapely.

If you could go back and spend an afternoon with any author who's now dead, who would it be?

It would be George Eliot because she was so brilliant.

If you could sleep with any author who's now dead, who would it be?

The 17-year-old Rimbaud.

Why?

Because he was a young, frail top—my favorite type.

You must read so quickly. How many books do you go through in a month?

I read in a leisurely cover-to-cover way maybe four books a month, but I "consult" (flip through, ransack) at least a hundred books a month. The leisurely books are classic novels I'm rereading or new novels (by Sebald, Ondaatje, Ian McEwan, Alan Hollinghurst, Peter Carey) I'm reading as if they were classics—as they soon will be, no doubt.

Rank these biographical notables—some classic novelists, others not so classic—in order of literary appeal: George Bernard Shaw, Aiden Shaw, Shakespeare, Marcel Proust, Christopher Rice.

Proust, Shakespeare, Aiden Shaw, George Bernard Shaw, Christopher Rice.

Now rank them in order of sexual appeal.

Aiden Shaw, Rice, and, uh, the others don't make the list.

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