Reader Interview: Dinner Conversation

Dinner Guest?

Dinner Guest?

You can have dinner with any one person in history. Language will be no barrier, you’ll be guaranteed to survive the meal unscathed, and you can ask anything you want and the person you’re having dinner with will tell you the absolute, full truth.

Who would you invite to dinner, and what would be the one question you would absolutely ask?

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

127 comments… add one
  • Michael Polk Jul 7, 2012 @ 10:21

    You know, I actually have no idea, because historical people hold no fascination for me. If I could, I would ask a fictional character, simply because we would be on the same wavelength. Although, I think lunch with Pocahontas would be very educational. I would most likely ask about wildlife experiences, because hearing about those would be awesome.

  • Amazingrace Jun 28, 2012 @ 6:18

    I would be honoured to have Hypatia of Alexandria. She lived 16 centuries ago. a product of her father’s determination to raise her as he would have a son, she became the first (acknowledged) woman astromoner, an accomplished mathematician, and inventor, and a philosopher aligned with Plato and Aristotle. she was also a woman of grace, eloquence, of beauty and wisdom.
    I would like to ask her about life in alexandria in those days; how people lived, their social customs, the interactivity (and otherwise) of men and women. I’d ask about her astronomical activities which in those days also included astrological studies, both of which interest me. I am an inventor, and would like to ask her questions about her inventions. I’d like to know if she felt that she’d missed out on female contact.
    and I’d like to ask her how she felt about the christian bishop who was incensed with one of her (male) philosphers, who was unable to abuse him, so set the men of his congregation on to stone Hypatia to death.
    A woman of education, in an era when the new Christian chursch was determined to put women in their place; a social order which felt threatened by knowledgable women.
    Hypatia would be incredibly interesting as a dinner companion.

  • M. Vinshire Jun 26, 2012 @ 22:31

    Huh. Well….that’s an interesting question. Mostly because there’s about a billion people I’d like to talk to, being the history loving person that I am.

    Uh, C.S. Lewis.

    The first question I’d ask would … well. I’d ask him about a short story he wrote – he died before he finished it – and beg for him to finish it.

    Other people?

    Joseph Stalin. The Cold War always interested me, and it’d be interesting to hear him go on about what he believed in and if he actually seriously believed in the Purges he did or if he was just that malicious.

    Another person? Napoleon. Dunno what I’d ask him – probably convince him to talk and just listen to him go on about the military and military strategies.
    I’d probably learn quite a bit.

    Besides that…Nope. Most of the other ones I’d like to ask have already been posted. 😀

    (Sorry, nothing witty here at the mo, folks. 🙂 )

  • Hulalula Jun 24, 2012 @ 20:41

    What, no Cleo fans out there? The Queen of the Nile would be my choice most definitely. First of all, I would just love to get a look at her! And then get down with some juicy dish around intrigue and men. Oh, and ask to see some pictures…

  • Gwen Jun 22, 2012 @ 19:24

    That’s so difficult – I guess that since several other people left multiple choices, I’ll do three as well.
    First choice would be Emperor Julian the Apostate – I’d love to hear what his vision for Rome would’ve been if he hadn’t died, to ask him what he learned from his beautiful library that was burnt so soon after his death, to thank him for standing up to the monotheists, and just to talk with him about the way the world is and the way it could be.
    Second choice would be Thomas Jefferson – I’d just love to ask him about his life. He’s one of the most amazing men I’ve ever known, even though all I’ve only known him through books. And I’d want to thank him for what he and the other Founding Fathers gave America.
    Third choice would be C.S Lewis, because even though we disagree on many points there are also many where we coincide, and he’s a man I could thoroughly enjoy arguing with. I always thought that we might have been good friends if we could have met while he was alive – so it would be a chance for me to make a dream come true. 🙂

  • M.G. Castle Jun 22, 2012 @ 13:52

    Jesus Christ would be my pick if I only had one. I’d find out why we are here, where are we going and how are my ancestors doing.

  • Brian Brooks Jun 22, 2012 @ 10:49

    Jack the ripper. I’d ask him just who the hell are you?

  • NancyD Jun 21, 2012 @ 17:57

    We would be four for dinner. My husband, who wants to talk to an honest politician, would invite Harry Truman. I would choose, Sun Tzu, attributed author of The Art of War. He said if you can control your mind, you can control anything. Sun Tzu, what’s your secret?

    Or, just for fun, we’d invite Mae West and Eve for their comments on twenty-first century women and men.

  • Judith Jun 21, 2012 @ 15:35

    I would invite Larousse and ask what he thought of my Victoria sponge cake!

  • Ebenezer Tellman Jun 21, 2012 @ 10:08

    I would ask Edward Tellman how he hich-hiked from Columbus, Ohio all the way to Akron, Ohio. For most people this would be only time consuming and perhaps dangerous but for Edward damn near impossible since both his thumbs where blown off during the battle of Gettysburg. Akron, as the story goes, is where he met up with his true love Emma Johnson, a woman born without toes. The Tellman’s were survived by their six children, Edgar, Ebenezer, Eileen, Eliot, Elizabeth, and the runt of the litter Echo Tellman who one hot summer entirely evaporated.

  • SirOtter Jun 21, 2012 @ 9:38

    There are numerous other historical figures I’d love to dine with, but several were so compulsive about recording every facet of their lives I’m not sure I could think of a good question in advance. I’m sure I would think of several during the course of the conversation, though. Winston Churchill and Isaac Asimov come to mind. I would like to ask FDR what he wanted to come out of the Yalta Conference that he neglected to tell his new Vice President that might have changed the course of the Cold War. I would love to match my capacity for the consumption of alcoholic spirits against Humphrey Bogart. I agree with him that the rest of the world is always one drink behind. And it would be a delight to dine with Helen of Troy. I’m not sure I could think of an appropriate qwuestion, but to gaze upon the face that launched a thousand ships has to be the quest of any appreciator of feminine pulchritude.

  • Jane Jun 21, 2012 @ 9:34

    I would take my great-grandfather and ask him what it was like being in the civil war, and what it felt like to live to be 101 years old.

  • Sarah Jun 21, 2012 @ 1:53

    Well, if I were feeling altruistic (not having any descendants of my own, or any from immediate family either it’s an academic question for me) I’d ask to meet with a prominent scientist- or at least a well-educated person- from about 300 years hence and ask how we survived, what the human population is, how many other species survived, etc.

    For my own entertainment- and also for material for my historical series, I’d agree with Texanne and invite Franklin. Not only would he be fascinating company, but he could tell me about just about everyone else with two thoughts to rub together who was alive during his lifetime-including almost all of the non-fictional characters finding their way into my books. I’m sure he’d also have plenty to tell me about the nitty-gritty of merchant shipping and how Americans got around the British restrictions on trade.

    Purely for writing research purposes, though, I’d have to go with Nana Asma’u, the brilliant writer, scholar, teacher and translator born in Northern Nigeria in 1796- just because there’s so little information on what women’s lives were really like- particularly when traveling from one encampment to another during wartime- but also how women students traveled to meet with their teachers, to go on the haj, etc. I’d also want to know if she was aware of the university at Tamegroute and had contact with any of their scholars.

  • Maya Jun 21, 2012 @ 1:23

    Tesla.

    The man practically invented the modern power grid, and when we pass peak oil, almost everything will be electric, at least to some degree. So I’d ask one question – how?

    How do we harness lightning?
    How to safely leech energy from the Yellowstone caldera to diffuse the the super-volcano and not set it off? The Pacific fire ring?
    How do we get the excess energy from the deserts to the populated places far away?
    How to best absorb that: photovoltaic, piezoelectric or thermal? Or something else entirely?
    How do we transport terawatts across the globe most efficiently: wire or wireless? Room temperature or supercooled superconductors? AC or DC? Ionosphere?

    He’d either solve the world’s energy crisis before it hits, or his bat-shit tendency would kick in and he’d spend the night checking our appliances and gadgets.

    But it would be interesting anyway.

  • Ted Jun 20, 2012 @ 22:36

    I have thought about this for some time… I think I would want to talk to Jesus. I’m not religious – even slightly – but I am also not an atheist. There is too much in this world that is questionable for me to say that there is no god or not some sort of life after death.

    But I would want to talk to Jesus so I could get what he said FROM THE MAN HIMSELF! No one would interpret him or paraphrase him or come up with some sort of companion discussion to tell me what Jesus meant by this or by that. I could just sit there and hear what he had to say and make up my own conclusions. And I might even offer up some questions of my own…

    Then I would like to come back and give certain religious leaders the value of my discussions with Jesus. Where would they be right and where would they be wrong? And how right? How Wrong?

    I think Christianity would be a completely different religion if we REALLY knew what Jesus said.

  • Ching Jun 20, 2012 @ 22:26

    I think i would like to chat with Anne Frank. I would ask her what she thinks about my story idea that’s set in her time.

  • Craig Jun 20, 2012 @ 22:11

    I think I would choose Moses and ask him if he really conferred with God or if he’d been on magic mushrooms at the time of his visitations. Either that or Mohammed and ask him why he has such distasteful predilections and resentment toward others combined with an unreasonable lust for power and authority.

  • TR Larson Jun 20, 2012 @ 21:03

    J.R.R. Tolkien. I would like to know if he actually had a workflow process and what it was like to brainstorm about Middle Earth in a trench in WW 1.

  • Beverly van Diepen Jun 20, 2012 @ 20:49

    I’d ask Mary how much she really knew ahead of time about who her son was and what would happen to him, Jesus, that is, and how she was able to let him go.

  • Eileen Landreth Jun 20, 2012 @ 20:26

    I would love to sit down to dinner with Tesla, and ask him dozens of questions. I would ask about his coils, did anything go a wry and cause the felled trees at Tungaska? Would he seek retribution on Edison if he had the chance? What was the last project he had thought of that never made it to paper? Are we related in some way? Did government attempt to get him involved in a “Death ray project?” What were his hobbies? What were his fantasies? I would love to have these questions answered.

  • Mic Jun 20, 2012 @ 20:19

    The first person that came to mind was Genghis Khan. Mostly, I want to discuss religion and world views with him, since he seemed so open minded for his time. But the one question I’d have to ask: “Were you at all disappointed with the way your decendants tore the empire apart, or were you surprised it lasted as long as it did?”

  • Vicki Nemeth Jun 20, 2012 @ 20:16

    I would invite Henry David Thoreau, but I don’t ask questions, I just listen. Asking would be counterproductive; solitary people speak most significantly when they find the rare person who will listen.

  • Rohi Shetty Jun 20, 2012 @ 20:05

    I would like to meet the Buddha and ask him for meditation advice.

  • angel mccoy Jun 20, 2012 @ 19:45

    OK I’ve goy a good one. first I would invite Thomas Edison to dinner at my house in 2061. Of course I (2012) will be there, but since it’s my house and it’s 2061 Then I (2061) would also be there. Since I’m on a roll I think that I (1991) should also attend. Since Mr. Edison would be the only person who is not ME I still fit inside the parameters of the scenario. Since I (1991) and I (2012) both love a good rare porterhouse then I assume that I (2061) will also enjoy that. Add in a nicely prepared baked potato and even Mr. Edison should be in fine mood for some dinner conversation. I would ask him what kind of things he could do with the tech of 2061. Conversation at my little dinner party would probably include some warnings for 1991 and some much needed advice from 2061. After dinner we could have drinks in the back yard as we watch out for Haley’s Comet. “Cause how great would it be to say I saw it three times in my life. (1986 age 12, 2012 via the time machine age 38, and 2061 age 88.) Since I have no doubt that I’ll still be kickin’ it in 2061.

    • angelique mccoy Jun 21, 2012 @ 20:49

      oops I guess technically it would be four times since 1991 would also be present and see it too.

  • Ray Johnson Jun 20, 2012 @ 19:14

    This is tough. There are so many choices… As much as I’d like to say my great-uncle, George Wynne, so I could ask him all about his participation in Operation Market Garden – which I only figured out after he died, from his WWII shoulder patches, which were given to me by my mother, who received them from him during the war – looking back, I can see he didn’t want to talk about it. And there are two of my ancestors I’d love to talk to, Emilia de Silva (born New York, ca. 1817 to a man press-ganged off the beach of Madeira) and George Roseborough (he and his wife were the _only_ recorded individuals from the “second settlement” of Worcester, Mass.) but since I can’t choose between them, I’d have to rule them out.

    Anne Frank? If I’d have to leave her after the dinner, I don’t think I could stand it, knowing her fate. Then there are so many historical mysteries I’d love to unravel, but which one? I guess I’d have to say the historical Arthur, Riothamus of Britain, and I’d ask him to tell me his life story. The roots of The Matter of Britain – is there any story greater than that?

  • James Jun 20, 2012 @ 18:14

    If the guest will tell the absolute truth, I think pretty much any human being would be fascinating. I’ve always wanted to “truth drug” random strangers and ask them what they’re really thinking.

  • Linda Jun 20, 2012 @ 17:30

    For me, it’d have to be Captain Benjamin Briggs. What really happened on the Mary Celeste that made you abandon it Captain Briggs?

    Runner up would be the guy who hijacked a Boeing 747 in Oregon, a.k.a. Dan Cooper, except I don’t know his real name. But I’d love to ask him what his name was.

    • Jean Lamb Jul 15, 2012 @ 13:42

      _I_ want to know what happened to the money (not all of it was found, after all). Ok, maybe he just had a bad landing…and maybe he’s in Paraguay right now laughing at us. You never knwo.

  • PapaBear Jun 20, 2012 @ 15:30

    Ok, if I had to pick just one it would be C.S. Lewis, but in reality I would invite the Inklings. This was an informal Writer’s Group (predecessor to our modern day groups and forums). There was C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Tolkien’s son Christopher, Lewis’ older brother Warren, J.A.W Bennett, Nevill Coghill and several other permanent members and a dozen infrequent members.

    The group existed at Magdalen College, part of The University of Oxford, and consisted of students and dons. The purpose was to read aloud unfinished compositions and discuss them. They met, get this, eery Thursday night in Lewis’ college rooms at Magdalen College. Wow! Just being in the room would be something. And sometimes they would also meet midday on Tuesdays at a local pub, The Eagle and Child, informally called The Bird and then later at The Lamb and Flag across the street.

    I would just want to sit back and listen. Can you imagine Tolkien reading a First Draft of a novel and someone in the Group saying “You know, a good name for that book would be The Hobbit”. Or someone criticizing Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet as “being a bit too far-fetched”.

    I don’t know if I could even eat (and that is saying a lot for me). Though I imagine I would consume a fair amount of wine or ale 🙂

    To sit in the middle of the august body would be beyond anything I could imagine. Though if I could only meet with one it would probably be either Lewis or Tolkien. However, I would argue for the entire Inklings.

  • russ Jun 20, 2012 @ 15:27

    I feel as if I’m cheating on this one. I made an entry in my notebook months ago that has since found itself in one of my plays.

    Who? God.
    Question: What fills You with Awe.

    Any answer except “nothing” probably reveals something wonderful.
    Even “nothing” sets at least one limit on God’s nature.

    (Before asking my question, I’d like God to swear on a Bible that He would indeed tell the truth. Why? Just to see how He responds. I suspect the oath itself would mean nothing since He wrote the book.)

  • sallie Jun 20, 2012 @ 13:48

    Any one person … damn, here i wanted a dinner party. LOL. The biggest problem is it changes from day to day. And today it seems to be my dad, survivor of WWII in the German Theater, geologist, entrepreneur, sailboat captain and story teller. But I don’t remember a lot of the stories; and he never actually told the important ones. Like being at Dachau two weeks after it was liberated. We didn’t really talk once I was old enough to understand. Although more than anything, I’d like to tell him I love him one more time and that’s not a question … LOL. Hey, Dad, what was it like being a father? Because the one thing I cannot be, is a father; altho’ I seem to have done the mom thing ok. Next week, Jesus, Cain, Abel and Dumas … LOL.

  • Prue Jun 20, 2012 @ 13:46

    I’ve have dinner with the Pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV). He did some weird things, and had some off-the-wall ideas – at least that’s how it seems now. I’d ask him about his Queen Nefertiti and what happened to her; and just who was Smenkhhare.
    I’ve been doing an evening class in Ancient Egyptian history and of all the kings, Akhenaten and that period when he changed state religion from polytheisim to monotheism is not now well recorded. There are all sorts of questions I’d like answered – not least about life in Egypt and what sort of food he ate. Food is so important 🙂

    • sallie Jun 20, 2012 @ 13:53

      This would be a fascinating dinner guest. How did he come up with monotheism in the midst of the established pantheism; was he influenced by the Hebrews? Wow. Yeah, I could see that.

  • Nigel Crooks Jun 20, 2012 @ 13:39

    I think I’d want to be in that upper room with the disciples when Jesus appeared amongst them after his crucifixion and resurrection. Like Thomas I’d have my doubts and I’d want to ask, “Can I also put my fingers into the holes in your flesh?” But would that really prove that He died?
    This single event has changed the course of history more than any other that we know of, so much so that we changed the calendar throughout Europe and all related countries. I know it’s hard to believe but it seems to me to be the only source of hope we have for a purpose to life.

  • Cindy C Bennett Jun 20, 2012 @ 13:35

    Elvis Presley, just to ask him what it felt like to live inside his skin, to be so uber famous that you couldn’t even breathe without someone wanting to capture and exploit that breath.

  • Emily Jun 20, 2012 @ 13:34

    I have to say, I’d probably invite Houdini to dinner, if I could invite anyone. I’ve always been fascinated by him, and, since reading this book he wrote on Spiritualism (or, rather, how to expose it) he seems like he’d be a really entertaining and charming guy to meet. Plus, you know, it’d always be interesting to ask him how he did all his stunts. He’s dead now, so it’s not like it would ruin his career or annythng.

  • Ke-Yana Drake Jun 20, 2012 @ 13:34

    The Doctor from Dr Who.

    Oh, right, a real person… um, an Akkadian lady, a priestess of Innana and the daughter of King Sargon who invaded Sumeria. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten her name. She is considered to be the first “writer” in history because her poems to the goddess Innana and her letters are the oldest recorded writings that weren’t about recording crops and sales and other practical things. I think it would be fascinating to meet her. 🙂

  • Frej Jun 20, 2012 @ 13:25

    I’m torn between King Gustav III of Sweden and Admiral Carl Olof Cronstedt.

    Ever since the historian Herman Lindqvist introduced me to this question, I’ve felt a nagging curiosity about who really fathered Gustav IV Adolf, Gustav III’s successor and purported son. Gustav III seems to have been homosexual, and there are doubts about whether he could have fathered anybody. The question has particular significance for me, since Gustav IV Adolf was the one who gave my family the name Wasastjerna — or should I say, inflicted that name on us? It’s a proud but awkward name.

    However, why Admiral Cronstedt surrendered the fortress of Sveaborg to the Russians in 1808 is a question of greater significance, so I suppose that’s what I’d ask. If you don’t know what I’m writing about, read George R.R. Martin’s story ‘The Fortress’ in Dreamsongs, Book One.

    BTW, Cronstedt was a contemporary of both Gustav III and Gustav IV Adolf and played a major role in Swedish history in both reigns.

  • Joanna Jun 20, 2012 @ 13:09

    OOOhhhh some great stories, here. I have a couple of goodies,… am I allowed to eat with TWO guests or just one? If I can have two, I’ll take Charles Taze Russell (who founded Jehovah’s Witnesses) and Eric Blair, AKA George Orwell) Simply because there are a lot of similarities between J.W. doctrine and the book 1984. If ONLY one, then I’d choose George Orwell and ask “Did any ONE specific issue or incident inspire him to write 1984” and tell him what’s going on today.

  • Jacey Bedford Jun 20, 2012 @ 12:55

    My husband’s great-great grandfather, Thomas Jones, a miner from Bagillt, Flintshire, born in 1826, who moved from mining town to mining town, from Bagillt itself and then towns in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire again and finally settling in a different part of Yorkshire where he was eventually killed along with his two eldest sons, in the Oakes Coilliery explosion of 1866 – still ranked as the 10th worst colliery disaster in the world. I’d ask him why he moved so much, why he avoided filling in any census returns and why his wife doesn’t show up on any birth records and why there’s no marriage record. It was only after he died that the family became visible on census records. I want to lnow what his life was like and what he was running from (or to).

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