Author, columnist, and editor, Chilton Williamson, Jr. has published works of fiction, narrative nonfiction, and books on politics and history. He was formerly history editor for St. Martin’s Press and literary editor for National Review. For 26 years, he served as senior editor for books for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture before being named editor in 2015.
Born in New York City, he was raised in Manhattan and on the family farm in South Windham, Vermont. Since 1979, he has lived in Wyoming, except for two years spend in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Besides Jerusalem, Jerusalem!, his fourth Chronicles Press book, Williamson is the author of four published novels and six works of nonfiction. With his wife, Maureen McCaffrey Williamson, he lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
CHILTON WILLIAMSON concludes his interview, with SV’s Bob Shuman, about his new novel Jerusalem, Jerusalem!, set in the contemporary West.
View ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem!’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yb7o4x5c
Do you consider yourself a political writer?
I’m a political writer when I write about politics, which my job as a magazine editor requires me to do every month. As for fiction, I’m a political writer when I write that, too—but only in the sense of the Marxist idea that “everything is political,” which I deny.
Do you find mainstream publishing biased in the same way as television? If you think it is, are there any options?
Certainly. Mainstream publishing is very biased toward the leftist view of the world. The alternative could be the much smaller, less commercial publishers—but most of them are leftist, too. They want the leftist politics even more than the big boys, while caring much less about profit.
David Mamet has said “the essence of drama is to follow the truth of human interaction where it leads. You can’t do that while you’re also trying to promote a political agenda because you always end up with me and my tractor. Anyone can mouth the essential verities.” Do you agree with him? Can Western conservatism be incorporated into a novel and is there such thing as an American conservative novel—what would that be like?
I do not know what “the truth of human interaction” could be. As for the possibilities for “a conservative novel,” I am increasingly uncertain that the words “conservative” and “conservatism” mean much, or even anything at all. They’ve been too much pawed over by academicians and theoreticians generally. Chesterton said the great question is not between conservatism and liberalism, but between right and wrong. My own restatement of the opposition between “liberal” and “conservative” is “pre-modern” v. “modern.” Modern people are comfortable with secularist, industrialist, technocratic, mass market, and mass democratic society. Pre-modern ones are not. Naturally, if these happen also to be novelists, they are conservative ones. Thus, William Faulkner, Andrew Lytle, Flannery O’Connor, Joseph Conrad, Evelyn Waugh, Solzhenitsyn, wrote “conservative” novels. So does Cormac McCarthy today. So do I.
Best Western novel, besides one of your own?
Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985).
You have also written a novel for tweens about lions from Africa called The Greatest Lion. When did you become interested in children’s literature?
I’ve read and enjoyed children’s literature since I was a child, and still do. For instance, I reread Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows recently, and Milne’s Pooh books are still a delight to me. So are Beatrix Potter’s delightful tales. And Kipling’s Just So Stories. And Booth Tarkington’s Penrod volumes. And Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. And Walter R. Brooks Freddy the Pig stories. I could go on all afternoon. Most children’s books should actually be written “children’s” books—if they are any good, at least. I believe that a child’s book that an adult cannot enjoy as well is a bad book, period. When I set out to write Lion, I was determined to make it a story that people of any age could enjoy. Hence, a careful reader who perceive quiet allusions in the text to Eloise at the Plaza by Kay Thompson and to Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who like The Lion and The Lioness went swimming in the Plaza Fountain. There are probably many more such that I can’t recall now.
What was the inspiration for the book?
My love of cats, big cats, and lions especially—partly inspired by Joy Adamson’s Elsa books. I worked for five or six years as a docent at Denver Zoo, where lions were my specialty. I had to quit when I was made editor of Chronicles two years ago, no longer having the time to drive from Laramie, Wyoming to Denver and back once a week, a round trip of 258 miles. (See what I mean about distances out West.)
The Greatest Lion, by the way, is the story of The Lion and The Lioness who are kidnapped from Kenya and flown to a zoo somewhere in the Middle East where a war is being fought. They are granted refugee status in the U.S. and lodged temporarily at The Plaza, the authorities having no other place to put them. Eventually they find their way to Wyoming, where The Lion is arrested by a game warden for harassing the local wildlife, and jailed. After his release, he decided to write a book about himself and his adventures in order to make the money they need to fly back to Africa, which he succeeds in doing. My guess is the book will appeal to children between the ages of six and ten, or so.
One book of yours you’d give to the president and why?
‘After Tocqueville: The Promise and Failure of Democracy’ (ISI, 2012), which I believe is extremely relevant to the current debate across the Western world regarding democracy, populism, and elitism.
Thank you so much for talking with Stage Voices.
View ‘JERUSALEM, JERUSALEM!’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yb7o4x5c
View ‘AFTER TOCQUEVILLE: THE PROMISE AND FAILURE OF DEMOCRACY’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yabx8den
Visit Chronicles Web site: https://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/
Read Part 1 of this interview at: https://tinyurl.com/ybpzyos4
Read Part 2 of this interview at: https://tinyurl.com/yabx8den
(c) 2017 by Chilton Williamson, Jr. (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.
Lions photo: The Denver Post.