Whether you’re writing a novel, story, profile, or memoir, what you learn about your topics depends on what questions you ask—and how you ask them.
This fall, Dianne Aprile teaches the six-session multigenre class The Art of the Interview, in which you’ll learn techniques for interviews and try your hands at writing from an interview. Dianne recalls some of her most memorable interviews and describes in more detail what will be covered in her class below.
Maybe it’s your great aunt Sophie who has the goods on the bad guy in your memoir. Or, if you’re lucky, it’s Joan Didion ringing you up a year after her daughter’s death. Or perhaps it’s Wendell Berry (whose work you love) sitting in the kitchen of his Kentucky River farmhouse when you bring up a sore subject: his practice of having his wife type his handwritten manuscripts.
It doesn’t matter who’s your subject in an interview: you have to be prepared. And preparation doesn’t stop with making a list of questions.
Interviewing is all in the prep and the follow-up. I’ve found this to be true whether I was interviewing Wendell Berry and his wife Tanya back in my home state, or Joan Didion on a phoner (cocktail ice tinkling through the speaker), or my gutsy aunt Aileen, a strong-willed woman who suffered for six decades from sexual assault and invasive medical procedures, her life becoming the inspiration for a memoir about our relationship.
In any situation, it’s vital to do your biographical homework beforehand and, above all, stay nimble in the conversation.
In this class we will learn the best practices of interviewing, including research and keeping your subject on task! (It’s a truism that writers — so many of us being introverted — are often not the smoothest conversationalists. But it’s also true that most books – including novels — require a certain amount of interviewing in the research stage.)
In class, we’ll grapple with these challenges:
- Your great-aunt Samantha insists that there was a deathbed will signed by her never-married brother, which is why she inherited everything he owned, including all the family memorabilia. You know she’s not telling the truth. How do you get her to admit and explain the discrepancies in her story?
- A certain politician has agreed to let you interview him, but he’s evading every question with hyperbole and references back to himself. How do you get the truth from a lifelong narcissist? Besides throwing your notebook at him, how do you make him listen to (and respond to) the questions you’re asking.
- You’re sitting across the table from your favorite writer, asking what her favorite book is, and the answer is a surprise – almost unbelievable. Is she joking or is there something you never fathomed about her. How do you recover and turn your shock into a deeper conversation about literary contrariness?
Come to my class prepared to research, execute, and ace the interviews you need to conduct to support your writing projects.
Dianne Aprile writes essays, poems, and nonfiction books. Her work, featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, appears in the latest This I Believe anthology. She teaches at Spalding University’s MFA in Writing Program and received an Artist Trust fellowship as well as Hedgebrook and Whiteley Center residencies.