Especially in contrast to Stephen Berg's comparable anthology, In Praise of What Persists (p. 216), this is an unimpressive gathering of essays and interviews--a few of which don't even provide what's promised in the title and subtitle. A memoir of John Berryman (by William Heyen) seems out of place here; so does an academic essay on love poetry--not at all "first person"--by Daniel Halpern. And the best pieces have all appeared before in book form: a John Updike credo from Picked-Up Pieces, Cynthia Ozick's much-encountered grappling with Henry James, Eudora Welty's fine "Words into Fiction" from The Eye of the Story. The more engaging items among the remainder are brisk, direct autobiographical sketches by Anne Tyler, Maxine Kumin, Francine du Plessix Gray, Alice Adams--and Mary Gordon. ("Above all I did not wish to be trivial; I did not wish to be embarrassing. But i did not want to write like Conrad, and I did not want to write like Henry James") Editor Oates offers her musings on "the ontological status of the writer who is also a woman?" Among the poets, Dave Smith is academic but at least clear, while John Hollander manages to be academic, mystical, and sentimental at the same time. And the speakers in the spotty, occasionally stimulating interviews include Saul Bellow, John Hawkes, E. L. Doctorow, Bernard Malamud, and Margaret Atwood. Unusually strong on female representation; otherwise--disappointing.