Hosting Writers & Company is a role Eleanor has deftly fulfilled since the program was first created in 1990, and in the over two decades since it launched she has spoken to many of the iconic minds, artists, and authors of our time, skillfully probing them for the personal thoughts, questions, experiences and creative instincts which inform their work.
Writers & Company is unique among CBC radio programs in that each episode devotes a full hour to a single interview, a pattern that started early on in its run. In an age addicted to memes, and sound bites, it's a refreshing format that allows space for frank and incredibly honest conversations that frequently delve quite deeply into her guests' life experiences, and unique outlooks on the world.
And perhaps it is the incredible amount of research she is known to do in preparation for each conversation, but Eleanor seems particularly capable as an interviewer in creating an environment where her subjects feel understood and comfortable, so that even those who normally shy away from press or tend to be quite reticent in discussing their personal lives, often end up speaking candidly with her about many of the most intimate aspects of their lives and work.
The end results are thought-provoking and in-depth interviews that shed new light and are remarkable in their candor; interviews which go beyond the specifics, and often become meditations into those large, persistent questions of human existence which great works of literature are so adept at posing.
The list of those Eleanor Wachtel has interviewed during her career as a broadcaster is truly remarkable. Her guests have included the likes of Alice Munro, Yoko Ono, George Saunders, Patti Smith, and Julian Barnes just to name a few. Eleanor Wachtel also hosts Wachtel on the Arts for CBC Ideas, and previously hosted The Arts Tonight from 1996 until 2007.
I spoke to Eleanor Wachtel from the CIUT studios in Hart House at the University of Toronto. During the interview we discuss her early love of books growing up in Montreal, the very first literary interview she conducted (with an emerging Margaret Atwood) while she was a student at McGill, and what greater meaning she sees literature and the arts holding.
Listen to the interview below: