Conversations with Shelby Foote
University Press of Mississippi, 1989
A pleasant man; a great conversationist
I wasn't interested at all in his fiction, and very little in his history; what made me purchase and read this book was the man only: I had seen him interviewed for the Civil War series by Ken Burns and Mr Foote seemed to me an absolutley charming and delightful man, so much that I felt I could listen to him speak for hours and not get bored, just like a little boy would to his grandfather telling him about the ways the world used to be when your parents had you and so forth. And there is very little about the man that comes forth, at least directly; but indirectly you get a hint of a few things. I am not sure if I'll ever read any of his fiction; I got interested in his Shiloh and his 3 volume Civil War though, but the time I spent listening and reading Mr Foote paid off. Mr foote builds on the characters to make the story, to tell the facts: the individual first. I guess I took the same approach with him. Little I care about literature, art, or racial relations in a particular time and space (as compared to many other issues more immediate). The man comes first; the man that is telling it, I mean. The man that speaks to you comes first; his story comes secondary and indirectly.
The subjects that are dwelt in through most of the conversations and over the years are the same, with little variation, but thankfully Mr Foote adds information or a twist to the answer given previously. Spontaneity and pleasantness; directness and vividness of memory are always present.
Yes, one gets a little tired of hearing this or that about Faulkner and Hemingway, or Proust and anything that delves into the realm of what they call art. Mr Foote comes out better, more authentic when dealing with his own time and place: with the Delta, with the South, with the Percys, and with history. He won't point the finger at any one, though, and he won't reveal any intimacies or deal any sharp criticism at any one he knows. So you won't get practically anything of his private life here, if that's what you're looking for. That would have to be looked for in the book that collects the correspondence between him and Walker Percy, perhaps. But I am afraid I wouldn't like him as much if I got to know him better. Perhaps he knows that and that's why he keeps himself so backstage and consumes so much of his energy and dedicates so much of his time to his one god: art. Which, as I said before, I couldn't care less for. At least Mr Foote is honest when he admits that all writers -including him- write for fame or recognition, and that they do have that ego to feed.
Mr Foote is passionate about writing, about books and art. So much so that they became Mr Foote. Ironically this is just the opposite of what he claims to do when he writes: he focuses on the man, and builds on his characters by the use of facts along the story. And when he writes he looks for answers, he doesn't try to teach an audience. Very laudable indeed. Now, what about the man Shelby Foote, without the “art” stuff?