FORA.tv includes 10,000 video conferences, lectures, and interviews available for download. Funded by investors Adobe and William Hearst III, FORA.tv is prohibitively expensive but offers access to talks with authors held at the New York Public Library, The New York Times 'TimesTalks,' the 92nd Street Y, and The New Yorker Festival. You can downloadDavid Remnick's 2011 interview with Jonathan Franzen orJanet Malcolm's interview with Ian Frazier. In a similar vein, Harvard University's Forum Network runs videocasts of interviews and conversations with novelists, graphic novelists, poets, biographers, and scholars as diverse as Stephen King, Alison Bechdel, Touré, and Helen Vendler.
But Iyer is right that many of the literary interviews published or aired today lack the substance and style that the literary interview's rich and varied history suggests. The first literary interviews published in the United States appeared in the penny papers during Charles Dickens's 1842 North American tour. These "written-up" interviews, or profiles, drew on personal interactions with Dickens and described Dickens with almost photographic accuracy. Literary interviews were more widely published by the time Oscar Wilde arrived in the United States for his 1882 lecture tour. Wilde poked fun at the interview as a form. He provided his own questions to interviewers and eventually staged and published a self-interview in which he mocked the interview's staid conventions.
In the hands of Joseph Pulitzer and other editors who engaged in "yellow journalism" during the 1890s and early 1900s, the interview became an aggressive tool used by the press to invade a subject's privacy. These techniques prompted Mark Twain to remark that the interview was "an unhappy invention." The publicity vein of the literary interview took hold during the first half of the 20th century, when the tabloid, the modern gossip column, popular magazines, and radio dominated the entertainment industry. In 1953, The Paris Review started publishing in-depth literary interviews in the tradition of literary conversations such as James Boswell's Life of Johnson and Johann Peter Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe. During the 1970s, the publication of literary interviews in Playboy, Rolling Stone, and Esquire helped establish them as more than just a "nudie," music, or men's magazine respectively. In the 1980s, National Public Radio shows like "Morning Edition" and "Weekend Edition" ran author interviews, which gave their news platform a broader base. The 1990s and early 2000s saw the advent of "Oprah's Book Club," which, despite what Jonathan Franzen may have thought in 2001, attempted to present in-depth conversations with authors about their work for a diverse audience.
Today, too many author interviews are just that: interviews with people who happen to write books. Whereas a literary interview was once understood to be an interview between a member of the press and an author of note,today any author is a potential interviewee, regardless of talent or success. Run through the list of author-interview podcasts currently available, and you'll find few that feature authors whose names you recognize.