A few quotes from the infamous 1962 conference

‘People jumping up to confess they were homosexuals; a registered heroin addict leading the young Scottish opposition to the literary tyranny of the communist Hugh MacDiarmid… An English woman novelist describing her communications with her dead daughter, a Dutch homosexual, former male nurse, now a Catholic convert, seeking someone to baptize him; a bearded Sikh with hair down to his waist declaring on the platform that homosexuals were incapable of love, just as (he said) hermaphrodites were incapable of orgasm (Stephen Spender, in the chair, murmured that he should have thought they could have two).

Excerpt from a letter Mary McCarthy wrote to Hannah Arendt describing the 1962 International Writers’ Conference in Edinburgh (28/09/62)


John Calder

The conference was an experience in adult education. The gamble was to see if we could interest an average public in ideas, the combination of observation and philosophy that compose the writer’s tool-kit. We succeeded because there is a great hunger for education and for an understanding of the world we inhabit.


Muriel Spark

I think that for a novelist to try and change anybody, for anyone to try and change anybody, is horrible.


Dame Rebecca West (in commenting on the inordinate number of conversations and battles about heterosexuality, homosexuality, hermaphroditism and then some)

I would like to suggest to the organisers of this conference that if they wish to organize another writers’ conference, they should have two conferences going on at perhaps the same time. One a writers’ conference. The other a conference at which people could thrash out whether they were homo-sexuals, or hetero-sexual, or whatever.


William Burroughs (talking about censorship as thought control and dismissing the usual argument about ‘protecting children’)

They [children] are already subjected to a daily barrage of word and image, much of it deliberately calculated to arouse personal desires without satisfying them. That is what advertising is all about.


Raynor Heppenstall

The junkie sex novel which is very much the American novel of the present… is beginning to feel already a little belongs to the past.


Alexander Trocchi (in response to an assertion that perhaps his sense of the important issues of literature were somewhat misplaced)

We have been exerting our nationalism in Scotland as long as I can remember, and I am damned sick of it.