Shelby Foote recalls Thomas Wolfe, Roosevelt, Joan Crawford

Dannye Romine Powell

The Paris Review interviewed Shelby Foote at his house in Memphis, Tenn., in 1999, and Foote talked about various subjects, including his use of real ink and blotters, which were getting almost impossible to find. Foote, of course, is the author of the monumental trilogy: The Civil War: A Narrative, but he continued to think of himself as a novelist. In 1999, he was still working on his yet-to-be finished novel, Two Gates to the City.

When he mentions Thomas Wolfe below, he is obviously referring to their time at UNC-Chapel Hill. Foote did not graduate, but holed himself up n the library and plotted his own course of study.

At the time of the interview, Foote wa 83 and, unbidden, began to talk about aging.

Getting old has way more virtues that it has faults, if you leave out the pain you might suffer if you have some serious injury. But I take great pleasure in being able to look back on things. I remember certain little scenes that are almost meaningless, like Thomas Wolfe coming up the library steps while I was coming down, being with William Faulkner and talking to him about his work, all kinds of things. I remember a sky without a jet trail. I remember Joan Crawford dancing. I remember Roosevelt’s fireside chats and people sitting in front of the radio, like warming their hands in front of a stove. Everyone on the face of the earth has such remembrances if he lives long enough. I’m eighty years old now, which is almost inconceivable to me. I don’t believe it for an instant.