Tobias Wolff, Visual Arts Auditorium at UCF, March 19, 1998
Although he has received many awards for his short stories, Tobias Wolff may be best known for his memoirs: "This Boy's Life" won the Los Angeles Times Book Award and was made into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, and Wolff recounted his tour of duty in Vietnam for "In Pharaoh's Army." He will appear in Orlando to discuss "the art of memory" at UCF, where he has been named "Distinguished Author for 1998."
Wolff feels that all nonfiction is creative -- if it's any good. "A strict recitation of the facts certainly wouldn't be interesting to anybody, would it?" he asks from his office at Stanford University. "Anything that moves beyond a strict recitation of facts begins to take on imaginative qualities, and so I suppose all kinds of things would qualify."
A lot of journalism would qualify as creative nonfiction, he says. And when asked if true stories like Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" or Mark Twain's "Following the Equator" could be considered literature, he replies enthusiastically, "Absolutely! I would certainly say so. They have artful qualities of language, and form and perception that certainly qualifies them as literature."
The experience of having a literary work translated into film caused him no great anguish. "It was fine," he says. "Anybody who has written a very personal book that gets made into a movie is going to have arguments because [the filmmakers] need to change things to make it into a movie...The truth is that at the end of the day I thought it was a pretty good movie."
Wolff cites Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver as influences on his own writing. He admires Carver for his emotional honesty and his seriousness as a writer. Hemingway, however, transformed his life. Like many Hemingway devotees, Wolff didn't merely want to write like Papa, he wanted to be him. "He was powerfully influential in terms of the hold he had on my imagination for many years," says Wolff.