By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Did California occupy as large a space in the public imagination then as it did afterward?
I don’t think so. California suddenly burst out with this cultural explosion. Things were going on in other places to a degree — around Harvard there was Leary, for instance — but I think it was Look magazine that had a picture of a couple of friends of mine getting married outside at one of these, what they used to call hippie weddings. That was on the cover of Look. So it was linked to California, certainly to my mind, but also beyond my mind. More to Northern California than to L.A., because L.A. was always more of a bullshit-walks kind of place.
Have you spent considerable time out there since then? I know you taught at UCSD in the ’70s.
I spent all last summer at Santa Monica.
Just for travels?
Yeah, just for travels and I occasionally do a little bit of television work, and a couple of projects. So I spent the summer out there.
Have you done television that you attach your name to?
No, I’ve never had a credit, except for the movie adaptations of my books, which I’ve kind of disowned. But I don’t have any television credits. I don’t work for credit.
Now that there’s a generation of kids whose parents didn’t grow up in the ’60s, do you see kids who have a different perspective on that time, or who are dealing with those freedoms differently? Maybe those last college classes you taught?
Well, there is really now a tremendous conformity in terms of style and wearing the right clothes and having the right watch, and also in having the right attitudes. We were probably enforcing something like that ourselves although we didn’t expect it from everybody. But I think there is now a kind of moralizing, and I mean moralizing as opposed to moral consciousness. A conformity of attitudes that seems a little dolorous.
I’ve heard it said that this is the first generation that’s more conservative than its parents.
It certainly is in style, and in attitude. This generation is more conservative than the one before, I’m sure, and of course it’s extremely materialistic, in a way that it wasn’t nearly as much. People who were making a lot of money in the ’60s were kind of ashamed of it. Poverty was really kind of valued, and today is a very materialistic and really cynical era, in spite of the moralism. I don’t know what the change is in terms of kids growing up with all this technology. It seems like information gets circulated very quickly and somewhat superficially.
What has your teaching meant to your career and to your life?
What it gave me the chance to do was to preach, for lack of a better word, and to express what I felt about literature and what I felt about life in general. I also got to know what was going on with generations of people over a long period of time. One of the things that surprised me was how similar each generation was on a certain basic level. There were fewer changes, central changes, in young people, than I would have expected, for all the changes in style.
So it was interesting, and I sort of continued my education. I worked in libraries, I took books out, as an autodidact I was always curious. It provided a certain order in my life which I needed, a certain structure to the week. I think I would have been too loose without teaching. I feel as if I was effective at it, and I also felt that I was doing something for the world. I feel like I’m doing that with writing too — because I have some ideals about the function of insight and the function of writing, and I think of that as something useful. But I certainly thought of teaching as something beneficial and worthwhile. I like to think I was making my little contribution to the general consciousness.
When, as a student, I first met Robert Stone, I was ignorant of his place in contemporary literature. In fact, like most adolescents of our media-saturated age, I was largely unaware of literature — at least any that hadn’t been adapted or repackaged in a medium targeted toward youth culture: television, the movies. Still, the stories of his participation in real history couldn’t help but inspire a little awe. I would learn from him, study by his side. He would be a mentor or — to steal an image from film — a bookish Yoda instructing me in the way of the countercultural Force.
Stone, unfortunately, didn’t appreciate my quintessentially modern affect — a youthful, rebellious posture combined with little interest in the hard work of documenting those feelings on the page. Creative-writing classes are supposed to be easy, but in that era of rampant grade inflation, he was the only professor to award me a gentleman’s C.