Rafe Bartholomew (Grantland) talks to the American writer about the prologue of Underworld, and the influence of ‘the shot heard round the world’ to his landmark novel

In honor of the 60th anniversary of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” National Book Award-winning author Don DeLillo answered some of Grantland’s questions about writing, baseball, and the historic 1951 New York Giants-Brooklyn Dodgers Game 3 that ended with Thomson’s home run. The prologue to DeLillo’s novel Underworld is set at Game 3.

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Don DeLillo, Pafko at the Wall: The Shot Heard Round the World

Can you explain how Underworld came together? The prologue was first published as a novella, “Pafko at the Wall,” in Harper’s Magazine in 1992, but Underworld wasn’t released until 1997. When you wrote Pafko were you already planning to use that scene as the beginning of a long novel?

One day in October 1991, I learned from a newspaper story that this day marked the fortieth anniversary of a famous baseball game played in New York, in the old Polo Grounds, Giants vs. Dodgers. The event was located somewhere at the far reaches of memory, mine and many other people’s. But some lingering aura persisted and finally sent me to the library, where I discovered news that startled me: on that same October day, the U.S. government announced that the Soviet Union had recently exploded an atomic bomb. The two events seemed oddly matched, at least to me, two kinds of conflict, local and global rivalries. In time I went to work on what I believed would be a long story and at some point well into the enterprise I began to suspect that the narrative of the ballgame and the atomic test wanted to be extended — well into the last decades of the Twentieth Century. I was eager to make the leap. (more…)