The interview has a tendency to go astray. But for people interested in writers and their work the technique has many advantages over the essay. What writers informally say about themselves, their backgrounds, their influences, their objectives and their work habits has a built-in fascination that a more focused treatment rarely attains. Unlike The Paris Review interviews which deal primarily with people who are already literary celebrities, this collection includes many younger writers who -- though they have achieved a measure of recognition -- are still experimenting with various forms and techniques -- Charles Wright, Ishmael Reed, Al Young, John Wideman, Alice Walker. But there are also contributions from the late Ama Bontemps (the Harlem Renaissance's foremost scholar), Ralph Ellison, Julian Mayfield (who says that he is more interested in questions of power and politics than aesthetics), and John A. Williams. The collection is as varied as its contributors -- there is the coolness of Ann Petry from whom answers have to be almost coaxed as opposed to the prolixity of Alice Walker who furnishes the interviewer with reams of moving biographical material. It's all interesting mainly because O'Brien, a lecturer and critic, seems to have asked all the right questions.