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New Left Review I/149, January-February 1985

Gore Vidal

Surrealism and Patriotism: the Education of an American Novelist

Would you tell us something about the influences which have formed you as a writer?

I come from a family of conventional conservatives. But one grandfather was a sort of socialist. He brought Oklahoma into the Union—Oklahoma has the only ‘socialist’ constitution of any state. They don’t draw attention to that and nobody has ever bothered to read it, but ‘Alfalfa Bill’ Murray, as my grandfather was called, cooked it up with a couple of other Populists. They were all William Jennings Bryan men, previously of the People’s Party. There was a great Populist movement around 1894. It was anti-banks, anti-railroad, anti-black and anti-semitic. When Oklahoma joined the Union my grandfather became its first senator at the age of 36 or 37, and over the years moved more and more to the right. I was brought up in his house. He was benignly anti-black, not so benignly anti-semitic; he came to favour the rich, particularly oil companies. He was not corrupt. He died poor.

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Gore Vidal, ‘Surrealism and Patriotism: The Education of an American Novelist’, NLR I/149: £3

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