Charles Ruas interviews Leon Edel about the discipline of writing and how he got started, his work as a journalist, a soldier and eventually, a professional biographer. He discusses the writers he has known from Edith Wharton and James Joyce to Edmund Wilson and Edna Saint Vincent Millay. Edel gives advice for aspiring writers and talks about his future works: a book on the Bloomsbury group including Virginia Woolf and John Maynard Keynes, and a possible autobiography that ended up being published in 2001, shortly after Edel's death in 1997. The interview took place in the mid 70s for WBAI and was made possible through a generous agreement with the Pacifica Radio Archives.
When asked during an interview “What moves one to write a biography, to spend that much time in somebody else’s life?” Edel responded “It’s a little like falling in love; at any rate that’s the way it usually begins...” Joseph Leon Edel was a literary critic, philosopher of biographical literature and history, professor of English and American literature and, most notably, an influential biographer. Edel is most well known for his multi-volume work on the life and writing of Henry James, and his second and third volumes earned him a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award in 1963. But he also covered other writers like James Joyce, the Bloomsbury group, Willa Carther, and Henry David Thoreau. Today, Leon Edel is most renowned for his unique attitude towards the genre of biography: “a biography seems irrelevant if it doesn't discover the overlap between what the individual did and the life that made this possible. Without discovering that, you have shapeless happenings and gossip”. Thanks to his strong convictions, Leon helped introduce biography as a true literary form, not just a dry historical recount. He was also extremely prolific writer: he published more than 25 books and edited many other authors’ work.