09/07/2012 12:06 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2012

Authors Amid the Rock Bands on YouTube

Some people (like me!) are so busy reading books that they don't bother much with moving-image media such as films and TV. But what about watching YouTube videos relating to ... authors!

When I wrote an appreciation of John Steinbeck last month, commenter "Peripeteia" posted this link to Steinbeck giving his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1962. It was fascinating to see and hear a great author I had previously known only through the printed page. So I decided to search for clips of other famous authors, and report back to readers of this post.

To warm up, I first looked again at the only existing film footage of Mark Twain -- footage I had mentioned in another post a while back. Shot in 1909 by Thomas Edison, Twain is shown walking around the outside of his house and then sitting with his two surviving daughters. No sound, of course, but it's mesmerizing to watch a literary legend whose life began way back in 1835. And it's poignant to realize that daughter Jean would die later in 1909 and Twain would pass away the following year.

YouTube has film of another 1910-deceased author: Leo Tolstoy! This clip shows the iconic 1828-born writer sawing wood, walking, riding a horse -- and then laid out on his deathbed, with a subsequent funeral march.

Another video I found mixes footage and still pictures of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Watching The Great Gatsby novelist move pen across paper is a rather compelling experience.

How about a short film clip of James Joyce in 1920s Paris? In it, the narrator relates an anecdote about the "small, thin, unathletic" Ulysses author and the physically stronger Ernest Hemingway.

One of my favorite discoveries was a late-1930s radio interview with a young Orson Welles and a much-older H.G. Wells, who are of course linked via Welles' famous broadcast version of Wells' novel The War of the Worlds. H.G. (1866-1946) speaks eloquently in a high-pitched voice, and even jokes that Orson "carries my name with an extra 'e' I hope he'll drop sooner or later." (Ironically, the video title mistakenly omits the second "e" in Orson Welles' name.) And it's a kick to hear Welles discuss his future movie Citizen Kane. While the clip is audio-only, there are photos of Welles and Wells.

Of course, there are videos in which we see authors speak. One shows a 1965 debate performance by James Baldwin. The author, who was squaring off against the conservative William F. Buckley Jr., is absolutely riveting as he discusses racism in America. To call Baldwin's intense speech eloquent would be a gross understatement.

Then there's an interview with an elderly Daphne du Maurier. The author talks about subjects such as her need to be independent, the reaction to her first book (1931's The Loving Spirit), and what she thinks of past and present book critics.

I also found a subtitled video of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his friend Fidel Castro that includes footage of the two visiting Castro's boyhood home. The author of the classic One Hundred Years of Solitude is also shown speaking.

A wonderful video of another living writer is this 2009 one featuring Barbara Kingsolver. The author is quite droll as she describes the tiny library in the town where she grew up (staffed by a librarian who hated kids), makes a joking reference to the old corporate cartoon character Reddy Kilowatt, and notes that she never felt she'd turn out to be a novelist. "I thought writers were old dead guys from England, and I had no hope of becoming that," she quips.

Anyway, those are just a few examples of what can be viewed.

What are your favorite author-related videos? Do you enjoy seeing footage of, and interviews with, writers you love? Does this add to your appreciation and understanding of literature?

Or does watching authors speak and move take some of the mystery out of things? Would you rather "know" novelists only through their writing and characters?


Dave Astor's memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional (Xenos Press) has been published. Signed copies are now available; if you'd like to buy one, contact Dave at There's also an Amazon listing here. (Several things in the listing STILL haven't been corrected by Amazon; for instance, the book came out in July 2012, not "May 22, 2008." Given that Dave didn't start writing the book until 2009, finishing it in 2008 would have been quite an achievement!)