The two Writers at Work interviews from our Fall 2016 issue are now online, in full, free to read for subscribers and nonsubscribers alike. In the Art of Poetry No. 100, Ishmael Reed is interviewed by Chris Jackson; Reed discusses growing up in Buffalo, the search for “new mythologies” that led him to write Mumbo Jumbo, and his concerns for young writers of color:
Combative writing has always been our tradition, even when we try to avoid it. I recently saw an article in the New York Times about Cave Canem, the group of black poets, and one of them described the trend in black literature as a “shift out of the ‘I’m a black man in America and it’s hard’ mode into the idea of ‘you are who you are, so that’s always going to be part of the poem.’ ” As if the tradition of writing about black suffering—I’ve been ’buked and scorned and all that—was dead. But why can’t you write about the hardships that black men and women face in everyday life? It was certainly hard for Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland.
Writers had better not be too cocksure that they’ve got inspiration on their side. I have seen enough writers get stuck by not being vigilant enough about the tendency of their own work to repeat itself. You can call it fear, but you can also call it a kind of vigilance that motivates a writer to keep his wits about him—or her. As the circumstances around you change and develop, if you don’t change and develop, you get stuck. You get left behind with yourself. You find that you’re in the company of somebody who’s not any longer very interesting.
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