- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

John Edgar Wideman on Writing, Freedom, Difficulty, and More.


Happy birthday, John Edgar Wideman! 79 today! Here are some quotes from his writings and interviews.


“I love the freedom of just starting out. That’s the whole point for me.”


“Write something beautiful. Write something strong.”


“A work in progress is a privilege.”


“Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up. But the writing is a way of not allowing those things to destroy you.”


“I respect good writing, but the stuff that keeps me going, that I want to come back to, has to have an edge.”


“What’s fascinating to me about African-American speech is its spontaneity, the requirement that you not simply have a repertoire of vocabulary or syntactical devices/constructions, but that you come prepared to do something with that repertoire, those structures, and do something in an attempt to meet the person on a level that both uses the language, mocks the language, and recreates the language. It’s a very active exchange. But at the same time as I say that, the silences and the refusal to speak is just as much a part, in another way, of African-American speech.”


“I want my interests to be piqued. My imagination is restless. I don’t work systematically. That’s not true; I do work systematically because I work hard. I’m very demanding of myself.”


“All kind of writing is difficult. Any good genre of writing is difficult to do. It takes a certain kind of genius and skill and I respect it greatly. Distinctions are invidious. You read something and it grabs you and you enjoy the hell out of it and that’s that—Thank you, author, thank you, book.”


“I want my fiction to have kind of a verity, a kind of weight, a kind of substance. That goes back to the fact that any sort of writing is a projection, is a kind of backwards and forwards tripping into one’s own life.”


“I want to feel I’m pushed. I want to feel that I’m learning something about writing, about expression, when I am taking the time to read books.”


“But really, from my point of view as a writer, if I don’t get involved in something—if it’s not about me, if I’m not in there somewhere in an intense, intimate way—then what am I doing, why am I bothering.”


“When I wake up in the morning, I need the writing to go to. I begin there. And that’s not an accident, I mean, that habit of getting up in the morning and going to my writing first thing. It’s a habit I’ve kept for, oh, at least 35, 40 years now. And I don’t miss many mornings. If I don’t actually write, then I sit there and feel badly about not writing, or a rewrite or a re-read, depending, or do research. But that sense of beginning anew, and that sense of having a direction, or at least the urge to find a direction every day means that I have set aside a kind of place in my life for words and for language to live, and that place is—reciprocates, it gives me a place to live.”


“I am a solitary. I spend a hell of a lot of time writing in a room shut up with just myself. And when I’m not doing that I spend a hell of a lot of time walking alone. Hours. At this stage of my life I enjoy it. On the other hand, I depend very much on my wife, I call my family all the time, I travel to see people. But I think it’s inevitable as you age. Your family and friends are both the living and the dead. That’s kind of the hard truth. People are melting away and leaving all the time. So rather than protest too much, I think I’m just trying to accommodate myself to the way things happen to be. We’re born alone and we die alone and that’s unavoidable. But I like to have fun. I like to talk, I like to hang out, I love the company of my wife and friends. If you read a lot of my fiction, it’s about loneliness. It’s about wanting what is not available a lot of the time—a person, a place, a thing. But it’s also I think about sociability, about playing a game, about a crowd of guys on a playground. The ones who are playing and the ones who aren’t create a community and these communities are very, very important to me. Whether they’re in the past or whether I’m living in them right now.”


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