Since “Americana” appeared in 1971, he’s written plays, short stories and novels that have never failed to garner critical — and often popular — interest. His most famous books have explored the prevalence of conspiracies, violence and political terror in a world of mass media saturation. Time spent living in Greece in the late 1970s exposed him to the horrors of terrorism long before planes flew into the twin towers and awakened Americans to the destruction that very small groups could wield. “Novelists tend to see things in the culture that perhaps escape the very careful attention of other people,” he says.
But the New York Review of Books famously dubbed him the “chief shaman of the paranoid school of American fiction.”
(AGF s.r.l. / Rex Features/ASSOCIATED PRESS) - Don DeLillo at the International Festival of Literature in Rome, 2011.
“I have to try to disown that line,” he laughs. “I have written about paranoid characters, but I don’t at all consider myself one of those people. I do think that my work, to some extent, was shaped by the assassination of President Kennedy and the years of randomness and ambiguity that followed — and paranoia as well, absolutely. But I don’t think I fell into the group itself.”
One thing he’s clearly not paranoid about is the state of literature. Despite a steady stream of laments about the future of the novel, DeLillo says, “I do not share that anxiety at all.” But his encouragement is of the tough-love variety: “Even if the audience diminishes and if the significance of the novel diminishes, that makes it all the more important, and it becomes even more obvious that committed writers have to keep working — even if they don’t get the recognition they might have received 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. And even if they don’t make the kind of money that they used to make in earlier days. The idea is to keep the novel alive, and perhaps it will become even more precious than it used to be in healthier days.”
He’s doing his part. While Philip Roth recently announced that he had stopped writing, DeLillo says, “I’m working hard on a very challenging novel.” He’s still pounding away on his Olympia manual typewriter, transcribing his startling vision of modern America.