RAW Week: My Strange Evening with Robert Anton Wilson, By Lewis Shiner


Like, I'm sure, tens of thousands of others, I snapped up the Illuminatus! trilogy when Dell first published it in 1975, reading each volume as it came out, awed by the erudition, the chutzpa, and the sheer lunacy of it. Who were these guys? I reviewed the trilogy in Tales from Texas, a fanzine I edited at the time with my friend Bob Wayne, and talked it up for years. As a result, Austin zine publisher Rick Shannon thought of me when he scored the chance to interview Wilson in April of 1988.

It was a strange evening. Wilson insisted that we conduct the interview over dinner at his hotel. He knew that Rick had virtually no budget, but he insisted that Rick pick up the check and ordered from the top of the menu -- steak and lobster, with wine, if memory serves. He didn't seem fully present to me -- I had the feeling at the time that he wasn't really listening to our questions, that he was talking over us, and delivering set pieces from his repertoire.

But when I sat down with the tape to transcribe it, I had a completely different reaction. The Wilson on the tape seemed compassionate and engaged, prescient and wise. It was like an alternate version of the evening. And when I subsequently approached Wilson to write an original short story for my anti-war anthology, When the Music's Over, he was quite friendly and accommodating.

The interview is on the internet now, thanks to Wilson scholar Tom Jackson, who calls it "one of the best interviews with Robert Anton Wilson I've ever read"

So, apparently, he was not just covering old ground. He was a real character, definitely one of a kind.



  1. Well, right off the bat RAW says “I’m always trying new things to supplement my income.” Was he lifting a fork-full of steak or lobster at the time?

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Mr. Shiner. I understand being left on the hook for a dinner check that I really couldn’t afford, but remembering how RAW ended his days in poverty, I wish that I’d had a chance to buy him some steak and lobster myself (at least, during one of the times when I could afford it).

    1. Jack – I was lucky enough to be able to help him out a little at the end. His family & friends auctioned his stuff off on eBay, so I now have a “blessed by RAW” tarot card, a couple of old articles and a coffee stained shirt showing GWBush as the devil. I would like to think he got steak and lobster, but suspect it all went on medical bills :(

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