Seamus Heaney was born into a Catholic nationalist family in the mainly Protestant unionist Northern Ireland. When he was eleven, he won a scholarship to a boarding school, St. Columb’s College in Derry. He went on to university teachers’ college in Belfast, publishing his first book of poetry when he was twenty-seven. Forty-four years later, he is the author of a dozen poetry collections, numerous translations, plays, prose, and countless chapbooks and limited editions. His following is so large that crowds lining up to hear him are dubbed “Heaneyboppers.”
Heaney’s poems engage with the immediacy of the natural world, its physicality. He celebrates the domestic sphere but always with an awareness of the world beyond. Some lines in a poem called “Terminus” capture that sense, describing how when he digs, he finds both an acorn and a rusted bolt. If he looks up, he sees a factory chimney and a mountain. “Is it any wonder when I thought / I would have second thoughts?” he writes, and, later in that poem: “Two buckets were easier carried than one. / I grew up in between.” That “in between” isn’t just a political line but reflects his posture in relation to the world.
Heaney has divided his time between County Wicklow and Dublin since 1972. For twenty years, he taught one semester a year at Harvard, and between 1989 and 1994 he held the position of Professor of Poetry at Oxford. In 1995, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. His new collection, Human Chain, will be coming out this fall.
Wachtel: You were born at Mossbawn Farm in County Derry, Northern Ireland, and you say these details are retold so often in introductions and bios that you can scarcely believe them yourself anymore, but all the same, what are your earliest memories of Mossbawn Farm?
Heaney: Well, my earliest memory is of my foot touching the ground of Mossbawn, the County Derry earth, or rather a floor laid above the earth. I was in a cot made by the local carpenter, and the bottom of the cot consisted of slats of timber, little smooth boards laid on kind of ledges. They weren’t nailed down; obviously you wanted to be able to lift them because the children would be peeing on them or doing worse. I remember lifting one or two of those boards and stepping off the bottom of the cot down onto the smooth, cool cement floor of the house. And I can still feel my little foot inside my old foot here. So that’s my very first memory, undoubtedly. The house was a typical thatched, whitewashed, long, low country farmhouse of that era, part of the vernacular architecture of rural Ireland. It faced out to the local county road, and behind it, one field away, was the railway called the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway, which stopped operating sometime in the late 1950s, early 1960s. But through the 1940s, the trains were running, and the big powerful noise would come over the field of a steam engine shunting up to the station at Castledawson. I mean, I could talk about this till the cows came home.
Heaney: There were cows at home in the byre across the yard. There was a horse in the stable. The stable was under the roof with the dwelling house, and one of the big comforting sounds quite often was the horse going nhrrrrrin the stable at the other end of the house. We didn’t have a fire on the hearth, but we did have water from the pump, and there were wells around the place. What with thatch and well water and horse-drawn vehicles and horse ploughs and so on, when I look back on it, there’s a strong sense that it belonged in another age, really.
Heaney: We lived a kind of Arcadian life in Mossbawn. If you’d been living in Warsaw or London, or Birmingham, or even Belfast where they were bombed during the war, you’d have a very different sense of what the world was, and maybe your make-believe would have been more defensive. But I often quote William Wordsworth thinking of his childhood before he went to boarding school: “Fair seed-time had my soul,” he says, “and I grew up / Fostered alike by beauty and by fear.” And actually any fear I had was on the whole elemental fear. Wordsworth was afraid in the mountains, I was scared by frogs and rats . . . and frogs spawning, which went into my first poem, “Death of a Naturalist.” That kind of thing was all over the place. The usual rural childhood anxieties. But generally it was a very secure time up till the age of twelve, when I went to boarding school.
Wachtel: What frightened you about frogs spawning?
Heaney: Well, I went down into this area where there was a flax-dam, and they were there as physical creatures with their necks pulsing, as I say in the poem. They were croaking, and it was a very kind of sinister croak, a kind of chorus of croaking, and it just was scaresome to me. I dramatized it a little in the poem. I said I ran away, but I certainly turned. I was afraid of them. I don’t quite know what age I was. Maybe five, six, seven, I don’t know, but the sense of the gross, physical frogginess of them all and the sound they made. And the stink of the flax-dam at the same time, that was another factor in the repellent aspect of it.
Wachtel: The land around you comes up frequently in your poetry and your prose. How important is that physical environment when you look back on your childhood?
Heaney: For me it was all-important. When I think back, it’s sensation, really, rather than intellection that returns to me. A feel for places. I mean, the body stores so much. I can remember holding the handles of a horse plough, for example, with my father’s hands over my hands to help me guide it. When the ploughshare would hit a small stone in the furrow, that travelled back up the handles through the grip into your own hand like a little bleep. I still remember that, but I think that’s not uncommon, is it? What is stored bodily is very important for memory, and I think that other bodily sensations later on can bring it all back.
Wachtel: I remember that image of the horse plough in your poem “Follower.” It’s not just the land but the tools for engaging with it that are so vivid—from your earliest poems, such as “Digging,” right up to recent ones.
Heaney: Yes, that’s true. My head is furnished with medieval tools like sledgehammers and iron spikes to drive into walls and horse collars and so on. There’s something in me that responds very physically and emotionally to them. It’s as if one has a better grip on things when I get my hand or my tongue around those particular objects.
In my last book I did a poem about a sledgehammer hitting a post, but I think it wasn’t just a physical sensation I was trying to get at. It was about the full exercise of merciless, violent power. It was a poem written after Iraq. There were no Iraq references in it, but it is about the sense of transgression you have when you utterly, mercilessly use a sledgehammer, even when hitting a dead post. There’s a kind of unrestrained fury, an unforgiving brutality to it that I wanted to get. So I think that you can transmit sensation but hopefully suggest and effect a consequence as well.
Wachtel: Your father was a cattle dealer. Can you tell me a bit about him?
Heaney: His work—his calling, really—involved him going out on the road to fairs, buying cattle there, and then bringing them back home and supplying other farmers. Or he would get orders from local farmers and would go to the fairs to buy the beasts at a certain rate and bring them back and sell them at some profit or other. So he was a kind of middleman between small farmers and other cattle dealers. We’re talking about a culture now that has gone completely. I mean, there are no fair days in the way there used to be when local people drove the cattle into the main street of the local village, and there was a big assembly on the first Monday of every month or the second Tuesday of every month or whatever. Now, and in the later days of my father’s life, all that negotiation is done in auction rings and it’s much more corporate. What he did was find individual beasts and make individual deals at the fair and then on the farm. He was a very good judge of cattle and was much sought by people who wanted decent stock, and I suppose he was trusted also.
Wachtel: You’ve described him as a solid, quiet country man with country confidence. So he didn’t say that much?
Heaney: No, he didn’t speak that much, no. I’ve often said my father regarded speech as a kind of affectation. He suspected the statement of too many good intentions and good sentiments. He assumed that intuitive transmission was the real thing. If it was overstated, he tended to shy away from it.
Wachtel: By overstated you mean stated.
Heaney: Yes, indeed. Statement was overstatement to some extent, that’s right.
Wachtel: When your father died in 1986, you said the roof came off the world. Can you tell me what in particular that meant for you?
Heaney: I was forty-seven, I think. My mother died in 1984, and my father died a couple of years later. And I think maybe that’s just a common experience; that you are next in line, there’s nothing over your head in terms of age, in terms of a parent. It coincided in my own life with a wonderful bout of writing a couple of years later—1988, 1989—a sequence of poems eventually called Squarings. They were terrifically free, and they began with an image of an unroofed wall-stead of an old ruined house and an image of the soul as a beggar standing in the doorway. I suppose that particular image began to take hold of me—the idea of an unroofed space and the creature, soul-body, down here with nothing between it and the infinite. And all the early formation, all the early religious imagery that I got for life and death, for the meaning of your life on earth and then your afterlife, all that somehow was stirred again. For anybody in my generation, certainly in the Irish Catholic generation, the soul was like a little white handkerchief, unstained, and you would stain it with sin and so on. But more important was the sense that the whole universe was governed by the deity, that there was divine attention being paid not just to the universe but to you yourself. You’re like a little drop of water in this great ocean, you’re a little speck in the whole scheme of things: nevertheless, you are being watched over, and watched over not only in terms of care but in terms of supervision to see you do nothing wrong. And there was this idea, and my generation got it very early, that there would be two judgments at the end of your life. First, at the end of your particular life, you would be whipped away into eternity and you would undergo a particular judgment; your own life would be scanned, and rewards or punishments, or atonement, would be the result of that. Then again at the end of time, there would be a general judgment, and the whole thing would be ratified on a larger scale. Anybody who undergoes that is marked by it forever, I think. And no matter what kind of secularization occurs, there is a huge coordinate established for consciousness from the beginning, that sense of the outer shimmering rim of everything always being there in your imagination. Maybe that explains it—the soul being whipped away and the roof coming off and you being exposed to that infinity that occurs after the death of your parents.
Wachtel: You mention that this foundation was so strong regardless of the secularization that occurred later, but were you a believer at the time?
Heaney: Of course I was a believer. I don’t know what I believe anymore, but I was part of the Irish Catholic machinery until my late teens, early twenties, definitely. The matter of the sacraments, transubstantiation for example, gave me trouble at a certain stage. But the idea that you could gain merit through a system of grace and you could gain merit for other people, that self-denial had a spiritual meaning, and that there was a whole supernatural economy, that had strong appeal to me. Of course you dwell in doubts, as John Keats says, and you can dwell with doubts as well as with beliefs, but I think that all that was shaken. When you left the church atmosphere and grew into adulthood, at university, you were between worlds again. You knew that you belonged in a Catholic, medieval, Chaucerian, Dantesque world, and at the same time you were dwelling in a post-Freudian, post–D. H. Lawrence world. One part of you had the experience of going to confession and confessing sins of impurity, the other part of you is writing essays about Lawrence and commending the kind of dark gods and the sensual realities of life that he expressed.
Wachtel: I have to ask you, did you ever say to your father that you loved him?
Heaney: How do you know that’s my father? [laughs]
Wachtel: You’re right. Guilty as charged.
Heaney: I don’t remember. That kind of language would have been much suspect. We knew love. It wasn’t a matter of declaring it. It was proven.
Wachtel: From your descriptions of home, there wasn’t a lot of reading material at hand. When did you first become interested in poetry?
Heaney: Well, poetry as “poetry.” Early on I was familiar with recitation. We had little concerts at home as children, where we recited poems we’d learned at school. Then at Christmas, and at Easter, elder friends of my father’s and mother’s would be in, and there would be sing-songs; and as I came into adolescence I would be asked to do a recitation. I knew several, such as “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” from Robert Service, “The Spell of the Yukon,” “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” and then an Irish writer called Percy French who wrote that kind of thing also.
But it was when I went to secondary school, I suppose, and began to get into English literature and poetry as a subject, that something came alive in me to the language, something wakened or was stirred, especially by poets like John Keats, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and so on. In university, that conscious relish of language became stronger, but I was always shy of “poetry.” I didn’t quite know what it was. And I think it was right to be shy of it, because nobody knows quite what it is. I’m still not sure. I wrote some poems as every literary undergraduate does, but it wasn’t until I was in my twenty-second or twenty-third year, 1962, that “that something” started in me. I’ve said this often, but it came from reading poetry by Patrick Kavanagh, an Irish poet with the same kind of background as myself, a wonderful sudden burst of energy from him; and likewise from Ted Hughes, who again touched on subjects that I thought were known only to me, such as dead pigs lying in barrows, and bulls in outhouses, and barns and so on. So that was, as they say, permission. As an undergraduate at Queen’s University, of course I had been lectured on contemporary poetry, and I had read Eliot, I had read Auden. But I had also swallowed the standard line that contemporary poetry was urban, ironical, detached. I mean, the intonations of Eliot I could hear as a listener, but they didn’t enter me or waken anything in me in the way these other voices did. So once I started in 1962, I was bitten and kept going back for more.
Wachtel: When you were writing as an undergraduate, you went under the name of Incertus or Uncertain, and then when you got this kind of affirmation to trust your own experience of rural life through, as you say, Ted Hughes or Patrick Kavanagh or even Robert Frost, it gave you this permission. But you say that no place in the world prides itself more on its vigilance and realism than Northern Ireland, and I wondered how you felt that influence on your own work.
Heaney: It would be very hard for me to analyze that. I take it that I am vigilant myself and a bit skeptical, and I hope merrily so, so that’s part of the makeup. And allowing yourself to get through that is part of the action. I think that self-forgetfulness, self-entrancement, is part of the action of writing, certainly of writing verse. To dwell silently on something within yourself, to forget that you are there watching yourself in action, that’s the achievement and that’s the desire. And I think nowadays a lot of people really experience that in front of a screen. A computer screen is an entrancement device. It’s kind of hypnotic, that grey glow. Not that I would begin poems on the screen. I have a connection to the shaft of the fountain pen still. I like to get started on white paper with ink gleaming, and then I like the reward of putting it out onto the screen and then hard copy and then fiddle away with that.
Wachtel: You were part of a literary world in Northern Ireland for a while; there was a certain poetry scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Then you went to California for a year. But when you came back to Northern Ireland, you gave up teaching and moved to the south, to the Republic of Ireland. It made front-page news in The Irish Times. What prompted this move in 1972?
Heaney: I had a year in California that meant a lot to me, I have to say. That was 1970, 1971, right in the middle of the Vietnam War, the middle of the countercultural moment. Terrific protests. The whole of that Bay area was really a countercultural area. You had the Black Panthers, you had the Hare Krishna, you had the loose garments, you had the illegal substances. You had all kinds of fragrances on that campus, all kinds of rhetoric, all kinds of protest. And the poets were very much involved. The year I was there, Robert Bly was up in Inverness, just a little north of Berkeley; Gary Snyder was there, Robert Duncan. When I came back to Belfast, I was first of all fortified in the knowledge that I could go back to the English department, because the last thing the chairman said to me was, “If you ever need to come back, you’d be very welcome.” There was that security blanket, and then there was a feeling of vocation that had grown in me during that year. I taught for another year in Queen’s University and finished my third book, and I got a feeling that it was time to declare myself as a writer. So I thought, okay, go for it. But there was no immediate plan at all that we would go to the Republic of Ireland. That early summer of 1972, Marie and I were driving around the north—County Derry, County Tyrone, County Antrim—looking at places. Then from Canada, we got a letter from our dear friend Ann Saddlemyer, who was then teaching in the University of Toronto at Massey College. She had this cottage in County Wicklow in the Republic, south of Dublin. It was on the old Synge estate—Ann was a scholar of Synge’s work, an editor. She wrote, “I heard on the grapevine that you’re thinking of leaving the academy for a while and looking for a house. I’ve got this cottage in County Wicklow.” So at Easter, Marie and I and the kids went down to that cottage and we decided, yes, let’s make a go of it. I gave in my resignation, and in the month of August we saddled up, filled a van, and went down to the Glanmore cottage, stayed there for four years, and didn’t go back to Queen’s, didn’t go back to the north to dwell there at all. So it was a happy mixture of Ann’s philanthropy, as it were, and the growth point in our own lives.
Wachtel: Once you did make the move, did it change how you saw the political situation? What effect did it have on your family, to move to the Republic?
Heaney: I don’t think it had very much effect in terms of politics or anything like that. I mean, if I had been in the north, my attitude would have been the same. I wanted the kids, really, to have the kind of childhood I’d had, I suppose; to share the feeling of growing up behind hedges and having eye-level contact with bird’s nests and leaves and flowers and so on. And there was something in myself that relished the frugality of life in the cottage, something that belonged in my first life, but it wasn’t a matter of fleeing the north. We lived as easily in Belfast as ever we had lived in the years leading up to the Troubles. It wasn’t a matter of feeling scared or being hunted out of the place or shaking the dust of the place off. It was very much to do with the option and the freedom of making a choice, embracing something different. In a sense, it was the first choice I deliberately made. I’ve often said that Marie and I, we were part of the scholarship generation. We got the scholarship to secondary school, we got the scholarship to the university, we got the scholarship to the teaching training college, we went into teaching, we got engaged, we got the mortgage, we got the house, we got the young family, and there we were. California was the first step off the conveyor belt, and when we came back we stepped farther off it. So that was a freedom.
Wachtel: There are references to the Troubles in some of your work, but it’s not often there as a central focus. How do you see the responsibility of poets to the politics of their time?
Heaney: I think that is a question that I kept answering ad nauseum between about 1969 or 1970 and 1989. Almost everything that I’ve written in prose and much that’s in verse is about that question. Poets of the 1930s in England especially felt that. I mean, Spender, Auden, and Louis MacNeice—who’s an Irish poet of course, but part of that British generation—they had to deal with the Spanish Civil War, the rise of fascism, and so on. They were lyric poets, they had private subjects. They had love, Eros, sex, time, childhood, and yet there was the big war and the need for commitment. Communism was flowering as an ideology. The attraction of working for the wretched of the earth was deep, moral, and compelling. So what was the private lyric poet to do? Was he or she to just keep to the lyric matter of the self and beauty, or was there a bigger obligation? I grew up with an orthodoxy inculcated at the university that these poets made a mistake when they embraced anything propagandist or political. I think there was a confusion, perhaps, in my mind and in the minds of some of my teachers between the propagandist and the political. Political was kind of inculcated as a bad word in relation to art and poetry. Our great exemplar W. B. Yeats was ever against “opinion” in verse, but he was never afraid to deliver opinion. I realized later on that his rhetoric and his practice were slightly at odds. So over the years, I think we had to learn how to incorporate the matter of the Troubles—bombs, killings, the actual landscape of contemporary Ulster—into the kinds of things we were writing. It’s a far cry from Mossbawn, if you like, from the big noise of the shunting of an engine to the explosions of car bombs rattling the windows in Belfast; Bloody Sunday to Bloody Friday, both occurring in 1972. None of us quite had got the way of handling it. Many years later, I found a way of letting some people speak in a poem called “Station Island,” which was a kind of a dialogue between a poet/protagonist and various ghosts—some who had been killed in the Troubles, some who had been involved in Irish life in the nineteenth century, and indeed the shade of James Joyce, who warns against too much side-taking, not to be the voice of any people, but to be your own voice.
Wachtel: And when you look back now, not that you need to spend much time revisiting it in your own work, but do you feel you walked the right line? I mean, it was at some times, I think, a fairly difficult path to negotiate.
Heaney: Well, there’s nothing that strikes me as dishonest in anything that was written. It may not have pleased everybody, but it pleased me enough to be going on with, and that’s the best you can do as a writer, I think [laughs]—to write honestly, honestly in terms of the subject and in terms of your attitudes, and in terms of who and what you are. And honestly in terms of your makings, in terms of the art, that it is not faked up, that it belongs as a true imaginative response, that it isn’t generated out of will but arises out of something more deeply lodged in yourself. I feel that anything that is in the books, mistaken or not, middling writing or not, good or bad, got there like that and I have no anxiety about changing it or getting rid of it.
Wachtel: So much has happened since that time and in more recent years for the good. How do you feel now? How do you see the future for Northern Ireland?
Heaney: I think that the new institutions are important, but I don’t see any great love-in occurring between the two communities for a good while. The main thing would be that in the new local parliament the opposing sides would find a way of talking at least, not bogging themselves down in ideological or sectarian fury again. I think the signs are middlingly good for that. We’ve moved from the atrocious to the vigilant, small-minded messiness of tit-for-tat politics, and that is an advance. So I am hopeful, yes, and certainly it’s a far better prospect now than it was thirty, forty, fifty years ago even. Things have moved on. Little changes are very important, little changes in the individual breast. And getting the institutions up, if not running, at least going at pedestrian speed, has been a great achievement, a great change.
Wachtel: There are so many rich images in your work. I’m wondering, how does a poem start for you?
Heaney: Almost always it starts from some memory, something you’d forgotten that comes up like a living gift of presence. Robert Frost said in his introduction to his Collected Poems, “like giants we are always hurling experience ahead of us to pave the future with against the day when we may want to strike a line of purpose across from somewhere.” That is generally the way things happen with me. The memory comes up and if I’m lucky, it attaches itself, it crosses itself with some other thing. I mean, I had that poem about playing trains on the sofa in Mossbawn. It luckily didn’t end up just a little nostalgic recreation of happy families on the sofa in the 1940s. It crossed with that sense that gradually came as one grew, how lucky we were not to be living the terrible, tragic life of others in mainland Europe and in Britain. The shadow that we didn’t know was there could be recognized retrospectively. That is the kind of poem I really like: the stimulus in memory, but the import, hopefully, more than just the content of memory. But without memory, I don’t think I could move. Mnemnosyne, I believe, is supposed to be the mother of the Muses.
Wachtel: In your Nobel lecture in 1995, you credit poetry for its “truth to life,” in every sense of that phrase. What were you thinking in terms of the senses of that phrase?
Heaney: First of all, in a poet like Frost, say, it describes the actual, it has a documentary quality. But that’s not the only sense in which you can be true to life. You can be true to it in terms of moral insight, in terms of ethical judgment, in realizing the imaginative dimensions of things. You can be true to it the way Wallace Stevens is true to it in a late poem like “The River of Rivers in Connecticut,” or the way he’s true to it in an early, crazy, little lyric like “The bucks went clattering . . .” I’ve forgotten which state they go clattering through. Or “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” this kind of grand flourish—sportive, elegant, just play for its own sake in the domain of language. If you take a contemporary American writer like John Ashbery, who a lot of people had, and probably still have, difficulty with—kind of whimsical, non sequitur kind of writing, channel surfing the language, going zigzag from sentence to sentence—he is true to life insofar as that is the way people’s minds are now, hopping from thing to thing. It’s the way the world is, attention spans shortened. The world is full of little sound bites, clamours. There’s very little silence on earth for anyone anymore. It takes a lot of effort to find a place to walk silently. Ashbery registers the truth-to-lifeness of the new world we live in. So I think it’s not just a matter of poetry being true in a novelistic kind of way, reporting what happens, but it’s true to the nature of reality, to the balance between the imagined and the endured, between the moral and the imagined and so on. That must be what I meant when I said it.
Wachtel: Each of John Ashbery’s separate segments is very recognizable and you can understand it. It’s only when you try to make sense of the whole thing that each piece is somewhat discreet. I was wondering, also, how did winning the Nobel change your life?
Heaney: I don’t really know the answer to that, to tell you the truth. I mean, it changed it in terms of invitations to do things, in terms of pressure of the mail, in terms of saying no to many things. And in Ireland, because we are a small country, the number of invitations to do things isn’t just confined to the literary. For example, I’m going to speak at an international conference of gerontologists in September. So that kind of thing changed, but I don’t think it radically changed my sense of myself or what I was about as a writer. I mean, I assume that it was given for work that was done rather than work I was going to do. This happened to me in 1995. At that stage, I was already fairly busy and fairly exposed to the world, and fairly well-known and scrutinized. Living through the Troubles as a writer in the north, living as someone who’s part of that generation of poets—Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, and so on—we were constantly under scrutiny. We were under political scrutiny, we were under pressure, we were interviewed. I think the kind of attention that came with the Nobel Prize wasn’t any more acute or exacting than what we had suffered ourselves already, so I don’t think I’m misrepresenting my response to the prize. What is true is this, that other people see you differently once this garland is hung on you. That’s another matter, but that’s their . . .
Wachtel: That’s their problem. [laughs]
Wachtel: You had a stroke in 2006, which you say wasn’t exactly a brush with death. What was it?
Heaney: Well, it was wakening up one morning in County Donegal in a guest house where we had been at a party with friends the night before and not being able to get out of the bed, making moves and nothing happening. I was paralyzed on my left side. Luckily, our very good friends were there on the spot, one of them a physiotherapist, so she came in and had a kind of calm talk. The ambulance services came very quickly and I was snatched straight to the hospital, which was an hour away, and en route I was hooked up to a drip that was very good for the circulation and so on. So I went to hospital, was in intensive care for a day and a half, and then something terrific happened. My big toe moved on the left foot after a couple days. At that point I was brought by ambulance from the north, from Donegal, about 120 miles down to Dublin. I was in a general hospital there for a week. And then I went to a wonderful rehab hospital for about four weeks, and that was it. I learned balance, learned to walk, got refurbished, and got tablets and instructions.
Wachtel: And you didn’t lose speech and it didn’t affect your mind at all?
Heaney: No, I was extremely lucky in that way. Didn’t lose speech, didn’t lose memory, and emerged unmarked. But for a while it was scary enough when I just wondered if I’d remain paralyzed. I was blessed, really. But it was a changing experience all right. I cancelled every appointment I had for readings, lectures, and so on for a year, and that had a good effect. It made me much more cautious about accepting invitations and made me realize how much I was on the road and how I should change my ways a bit. So it had that good effect.
Eleanor Wachtel is the host and co-founder of CBC Radio’s Writers & Company, now in its twenty-seventh season. She has also published five books of interviews, most recently The Best of Writers & Company (Biblioasis).