I imagine that if we had a college of criticism in this country whose opinions more closely approximated the value of the works of art inspected, it might; but as often as not, I find relatively little relationship between the work of art and the immediate critical response it gets. Every writer’s got to pay some attention, I suppose, to what his critics say because theirs is a reflection of what the audience feels about his work. And a playwright, especially a playwright whose work deals very directly with an audience, perhaps he should pay some attention to the nature of the audience response—not necessarily to learn anything about his craft, but as often as not merely to find out about the temper of the time, what is being tolerated, what is being permitted.
On why he decided to become a playwright:
Well, when I was six years old I decided, not that I was going to be, but with my usual modesty, that I was a writer. So I starting writing poetry when I was six and stopped when I was twenty-six because it was getting a little better, but not terribly much. When I was fifteen I wrote seven hundred pages of an incredibly bad novel—it’s a very funny book I still like a lot. Then, when I was nineteen I wrote a couple hundred pages of another novel, which wasn’t very good either. I was still determined to be a writer. And since I was a writer, and here I was twenty-nine years old and I wasn’t a very good poet and I wasn’t a very good novelist, I thought I would try writing a play, which seems to have worked out a little better.
On where the title Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? came from:
There was a saloon—it’s changed its name now—on Tenth Street, between Greenwich Avenue and Waverly Place, that was called something at one time, now called something else, and they had a big mirror on the downstairs bar in this saloon where people used to scrawl graffiti. At one point back in about 1953 . . . 1954, I think it was—long before any of us started doing much of anything—I was in there having a beer one night, and I saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” scrawled in soap, I suppose, on this mirror. When I started to write the play it cropped up in my mind again. And of course, who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf means who’s afraid of the big bad wolf . . . who’s afraid of living life without false illusions. And it did strike me as being a rather typical university, intellectual joke.