Conversation with Robert Stone

On Tuesday Nov. 19, I had the opportunity to interview the great Robert Stone on stage at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The podcast of our conversation is available here.

It was twenty years ago when I first read Robert Stone.┬áMy one and only creative writing class as an undergraduate, co-taught by Madison Smartt Bell and Elizabeth Spires, took place at Goucher College during the fall of 1993. That semester, I was assigned to read Children of Light and since then that novel (as well as Dog Soldiers and A Flag For Sunrise) has been a vital part of every moment of my adult writing life. There is no author who has influenced me and my writing more than Robert Stone. No exaggeration. (The other other artist whose work has affected me as much is Terry Gilliam.) When I wrote “Brooking the Devil,” which at the time was going to be the beginning of Extraordinary Renditions, I went back to Stone’s best first chapters. The resemblance between the opening of my novella and the opening of Dog Soldiers is not subtle; the homage was deliberate. Getting to speak with him about his new novel, Death of the Black-Haired Girl, was an experience I will always treasure.

Before the event started and then again after it ended, Stone and I sat on stage for quite a while to chat. He needed to catch his breath. I told him that Children of Light remained my favorite of his novels. He was a bit surprised and he told me that it was his favorite as well; he called that one his “lost child.”

That evening, I made sure to tell Stone knew exactly how much his writing has meant to me. I quoted the opening of Children of Light–that “aqueous light on the blue-white ceiling”–and he recited it along with me. We were both a bit misty eyed when it came time for him to go upstairs and meet his admirers. “You’re the best, Bob,” I said on my way out the door, and it’s true. Robert Stone is the best.