As a lifelong student of literature, there has always been one question about symbolism that has persistently nagged me, especially when reading critical theory: Did the author really mean that? In some texts, symbolism is so intricate and seamless that it seems hard to believe its use could not have been a conscious decision by the author. In other instances, I've found that some claims made in critical theory pieces seem to be a reach.
In 1963, 16 year-old Bruce McAllister, a budding young writer himself, was determined to answer this question and prove to his high school English teacher that authors did not consciously intertwine symbols into their texts. He composed a four question survey that he sent to 150 of the most well-known authors of the time, including Ayn Rand, Ralph Ellison, Ray Bradbury, John Updike, and Jack Keuroac, to name a few. Surprisingly, Mr. McAllister received 75 responses, which ranged from secretarial notes to thoughtful answers of his survey.
The Paris Review has published a number of these responses and an accompanying article on their blog, and I strongly recommend taking a look. The responses are fascinating to think about in regard to the authors' work, and also provide interesting insights into each writer's personality. Click here for the article.