It’s hard to think of something Roy Blount, Jr. hasn’t done. He is the author of 23 books, has written and staged a one-man play, is a panelist on the NPR show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me…,” is a usage consultant for the American Heritage Dictionary, is/was a Rock Bottom Remainder (the rock band peopled by such famed writers as Stephen King, Amy Tan, Dave Berry, among others), writes columns for Oxford American and Garden and Gun magazines, and has done just about anything else you can think of in his many years as a journalist.
This summer, Roy and his son Kirven (also a man of many talents) will be speaking at the Amherst campus of Great Books. As a preview of Roy’s visit, we asked him a few questions about his inspiration, love of literature, and his career.
Great Books Summer Program: What role did literature play in your childhood?
Roy Blount, Jr.: My mother read to me a lot. Not necessarily great literature, but good stories in flavorful language.
GBSP: Did any one person in your life stand out as fostering a love of writing or literature?
RB: My tenth-grade teacher gave me the notion I could be a writer. She urged me to write for the school paper. Thus began a long line of journalistic experience.
GBSP: What was your favorite book as a teenager?
RB: Maybe my favorite book as a teenager was Catcher in the Rye. But “favorite” is not my favorite word.
GBSP: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
RB: I wanted to be a writer as soon as I gave up on being a three-sport immortal.
GBSP: If you could give one piece of advice to young writers, what would it be?
RB: Read, read for pleasure. Savor the words, and the punctuation, and the rhythms of the sentences. When you see a sign on the road, or a crawl on television, think how that could be better worded. Try to write for your own and other people’s pleasure, and don’t give up. And listen to the ways people talk. Try to write down exactly what people say. For an example of great talk-writing, see novels by Elmore Leonard.
and two bonus questions…
GBSP: Over the years, you have written everything from reportage to poetry, song lyrics to screenplays, but people probably are most familiar with you, the humorist. Is there one kind of writing that you prefer over another?
RB: Books are by far the best. You the writer have the first and last word, and time to get the last one right. And then it’s there, lastingly, the way you wrote it.
GBSP: As a “humorist,” do you feel pressure to always be “on” and/or funny?
RB: No. I’m happy just to mope around. But when being “on” is called for, pressure is helpful.
Here is a video of Roy reading the audio book of one of his recent books, Alphabet Juice: