A Profile in Citizenship
by Jeremiah Norris (Colombia 1963–65)
(This Profile is with appreciation to John Coyne for his recent informative interview with Lawrence [Larry] Grobel.)
After graduating from UCLA, Larry was a Volunteer in Ghana 1968 to 1971. He worked in Ghana’s Institute of Journalism, teaching Literature, Creative Writing, and Current Events.
In the next 36 years, Lawrence managed — somehow, to write two novels; 3 books of short stories; 2 novellas; 2 memories; a book of poems about celebrities; 2 volumes of 4 screen plays; 8 “conversations with” books; a satire on yoga; and 10 books of nonfiction!
Within this literary output, Larry squeezed in interviews with international celebrities, creating in the process a veritable rogues’ gallery of contemporary icons. One was with Marlon Brando for Playboy’s 25th Anniversary issue. Playboy called him “the interviewer’s interviewer.” Another for Playboy was with Truman Capote, that subsequently was turned into a book titled Conversations with Capote that came out six months after his death, and went on to be published in a dozen languages.
Other interviews were with John Huston; Robin Williams; Ava Gardner; Farrah Fawcett; Dolly Parton; Luciano Pavarotti; Miles Davis; Barbra Streisand; Elliott Gould; Christopher Walker; Lily Tomlin; Governor Jessie Ventura; and Al Pacino. Several of these interviews were subsequently turned into books. The Ventura interview wound up being covered by all the morning news and talk shows and put the Governor on the cover of Newsweek for his controversial remarks about religion, prostitution, sexual abuse in the Navy, and fat people.
Of the many tributes for his interviewing techniques, James Michener called his book The Hustons “a masterpiece.” And Joyce Carol Oates dubbed him “The Mozart of Interviewers.” Larry is the recipient of P. E. N. and Playboy Special Achievement awards, the Prix Litteraire from the French Syndicate of Film Critics, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for his fiction. He has appeared as himself in Shane Salerno’s documentary Salinger, and Al Pacino’s Wilde Salome. Larry is dogged in his approach to interviewing. He spent over a period of nine months alone in his sessions with Barbra Streisand for Playboy magazine.
In Larry’s professional career, he has witnessed major shifts in how writers get their works published, from e-books to Kindle. Larry called this an earthquake rather than a ‘shift,’ wherein “publishers no longer want to invest in a writer, allowing an audience to grow over time. Now they want to know about the writer’s social media presence.” Over time, Larry had several agents, the changes necessitated by those who didn’t want to hear about his fiction or his memoir or his yoga satire. Rather, they wanted him to continue writing about his celebrity interviews, e.g., with Marlon Brando when he lived on Tahiti. Larry had other ideas. This compelled Larry to choose between working commercially for money, or self-publishing to keep himself sane and happy.
Larry continued to write for magazines and to teach at UCLA for ten years. He considered his books a bonus, and to be “lucky” when Amazon was looking for some established writers to demonstrate that not all the books they published were written by amateurs or were sloppily edited. Amazon approached Larry and offered “to put out his books in a manner that would please him”.
Larry is currently working on three new books. One is a novel based on West Africa that he had started a few years ago when he received a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship for the first 50 pages. A second is a collection of work he did for various newspapers and magazines. And the third is editing his 2 million-word journal, much of it covering behind-the-scenes interactions he has had with so many famous people. He began keeping this journal in 1976 when he was involved with interviewing Barbra Streisand.
Larry Grobel’s literary career is representative of a “moveable feast,” one so well presented in John Coyne’s informative interview that brought it vividly to contemporaneous life. This aptly demonstrated why Larry most certainly merits a Profile in Citizenship.