The first thing you generally do, if you're a writer and you hear that somebody famous has died, is you try to think of some sort of personal connection or experience you had with the deceased, so you can write something about it. Or else you dig out what you wrote about the person in the past and reprint it.
When I heard that David Foster Wallace had killed himself, what I did was I swore, and then I sank into a prolonged, low-grade stupor. It took me more than 24 hours even to remember that I had interviewed him by telephone, for the Boston Phoenix, a decade ago. It is disturbing how cobwebby things can get in my own skull-sized kingdom--I was going to say that was the closest I ever got to seeing him in person, but in fact I then remembered that I went to the reading that this Q&A had been pegged to. It was a zoo; people were sitting in the aisles, and I barely made it inside. In our conversation, Wallace had provided some perspective on his fame at that moment:
I remember giving a reading at a bookstore in Harvard Square. It was December of '91, and Harper's had this whole idea that they were going to put on these readings. The Harper's PR person came to Boston, and I came and I gave a reading, and nobody showed up. There was a snowstorm, but the basic point is, nobody showed up. So me and the PR guy went out and ate, like, three pieces of cake each and apologized to each other for three hours.
So, being used to that kind of stuff, giving a reading in New York and having some people not be able to get in is weird, and it makes you feel like you're a big shot. Temporarily. The Sauron-like eye of the culture passes over you, like in Lord of the Rings.
It's not a particularly good interview on my end, but Wallace was friendly and funny and extremely cooperative--the uncut version of the transcript went on endlessly (as Wallace alludes to in the wrap-up here) and was a great read throughout, but unless I have a printout somewhere in the bottom of a carton of my Phoenix desk effects in a closet in New York, it's probably lost forever.