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PEN Blog

Literary Talk Shows

At the end of November, I traveled to the German city of Stuttgart for a literary talk show. Television and literature are not exactly a match made in heaven, but in some countries there is still room for television shows that focus exclusively on literature. What’s more, the German government subsidizes the show.

Since money didn’t seem to be an issue, the television show put me in a rather swanky hotel. I could sleep a few hours to overcome my jetlag.

I was reminded of the spring of 2000, when I traveled at my own expense to California. The trip was for a small book tour to promote my second novel that had just been published in the U.S. After a short interview at a radio station in Berkeley, a woman at the station asked me, “You’re a writer aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“And you’re traveling at your own expense?”

“Yes,” I answered again.

“Have another cup of coffee,” she said.

I don’t question the kindness of the woman at the radio station, and there’s nothing wrong with an author doing a book tour at his own expense. If necessary, I would do it again. But I have to admit that the thought that of German taxpayers shelling out for my king-size bed in Stuttgart gave me some satisfaction.

Around 8:30 that evening, I arrived at the theater where was the show was being taped. The other guest was the German playwright Tankred Dorst who is turning 85 this December. We chatted and then I was escorted to the makeup room.

The time it took the makeup artist to work on my face lasted nearly as long as long as the interview itself. Apparently the makeup artist took her art seriously.

The host was an intelligent and amiable woman, and the interview itself was painless.

After the taping of the show, the producer invited the host, the guest and a few other people to a lavish dinner.

Crisis or no crisis, in Germany good food and culture still go hand in hand. Around one o’clock in the morning, we were still drinking and eating dessert.

I was tired but I said to myself, “You’re not leaving before the 84-year-old playwright. If he can entertain people at one o’clock in the morning, the least you can do is finish your schnapps and be cheerful.”

We talked about literature and war–what else is there to talk about at such an occasion–and we returned to the hotel around two a.m.

I had a strong suspicion that the 84-year-old playwright was both willing and able to empty his mini-bar. And although the evening had been pleasant overall, it was now decidedly tinged with jealousy.


(PEN.org, December 13, 2010)