“I would really like to try to do some good in the world” (William T. Vollmann)

I don’t know why it was so strange to hear William T. Vollmann’s voice on NPR as I drove into work this morning. Maybe because I have Vollmann on the brain (I’ve been in the middle of a long email interview with the editors of the recent volume William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion). Or maybe it’s just that it seems so rare these days to hear the opinions of a novelist given a platform on popular media. Still weird though (even though I heard Vollmann on the radio last year too). Anyway, he was on NPR this morning, speaking to David Greene about his forthcoming article on the aftermath of the Fukushima meltdown in next month’s Harper’s. From their disucssion:

David Greene: William Vollmann, I’m just curious. The last time we spoke we talked about how the FBI thought you might be the Unabomber. You’ve traveled with mujahideen, you’ve smoked crack with prostitutes in California. I mean you have a certain style your reporting where you want to be in the middle of something so to speak and here you’re exposing yourself to radiation. What drives you?

 

William Vollmann: Well, one time read an E.O. Wilson book about the ants—

 

DG: E.O. Wilson—you’re talking about the famous Harvard naturalist and professor right?

 

WV: That’s right, yeah. He says that it’s common in ant colonies for the older female ants to take more and more risks. They’ve already reproduced, and if they don’t come back it’s no real loss to the ant colony. And I’m an older person, I’m 55, I’ve reproduced, I’m going to die in any event, so I have less to fear. And I would really like to try to do some good in the world before I die, and you know, if I get cancer as a result it’s no real loss. The more I see of the disasters that nuclear power can cause, the more I think, I would really like to describe this and help people share my alarm.

1 thought on ““I would really like to try to do some good in the world” (William T. Vollmann)”

  1. Isn’t it about time for a collection of the best of Vollmann’s journalism? Perhaps a nice 300 or so pages selected by an editor — otherwise, Vollmann would turn in another thousand-page doorstop that few would read. Or 1,403 pages, as Amazon currently gives the length of The Dying Grass. Sigh.

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