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Don Delillo asks, 'Does poetry need paper'?

September 23, 2010 |  2:20 pm

Delillo_2004

Yesterday PEN announced its 2010 literary awards; the winners include novelist Don Delillo, who takes the top honor, the Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. Delillo's first book, "Americana," was published in 1971; his most recent, "Point Omega," came out earlier this year. He won the National Book Award in 1985 for "White Noise" and has been a finalist for the National book Critics Circle and Pulitzer Prizes.

Delillo has long been resistant to playing to the hype machine; interviews with him are both infrequent and charmingly substantive. PEN talks to him about Bellow, American literature, religion, paranoia and truth and new media.

"Will language have the same depth and richness in electronic form that it can reach on the printed page?," Delillo asks. "Does the beauty and variability of our language depend to an important degree on the medium that carries the words? Does poetry need paper?"

Delillo has clearly given thought to writing and its various forms. His 1988 book "Libra," a fictionalized account of the John F. Kennedy assassination, was so grounded in history that some wanted to call it historical fiction. Delillo insisted it wasn't.  "There is a set of balances and rhythms to a novel that we can't experience in real life," he told the Times that year, "So I think there is a sense in which fiction can rescue history from confusion." 

"A novel determines its own size and shape," he tells PEN now. Back in 1988, he said, "Fiction is one of the consolation prizes we receive for having endured the rigors of living in the world."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Don Delillo in 2004. Credit: Jean-Christian Bourcart / Getty Images

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