Redux: Doing Battle with Your Successors



Every week, the editors of The Paris Review lift the paywall on a selection of interviews, stories, poems, and more from the magazine’s archive. You can have these unlocked pieces delivered straight to your inbox every Sunday by signing up for the Redux newsletter.



This week, we bring you August Wilson’s 1999 Art of Theater interview, Ben Okri’s short story “The Dream-Vendor’s August,” and Joyce Carol Oates’s poem “Wild Bamboo, Late August.”

August Wilson, The Art of Theater No. 14
Issue no. 153 (Winter 1999)

When I sit down to write, I am sitting in the same chair that Ibsen sat in, that Brecht, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller sat in. I am confronted with the same problems of how to get a character on stage, how to shape the scenes to get maximum impact. I feel empowered by the chair. For years I sat in that chair and tried to best my predecessors, to write the best play that’s ever been written. That was my goal until I ran across a quote by Frank Lloyd Wright, who said he didn’t want to be the best architect who ever lived. He wanted to be the best architect who was ever going to live. That added fuel to the fire and raised the stakes, so to speak. Now you’re not only doing battle with your predecessors but with your successors as well. It drives you to write above your talent. And I know that’s possible to do because you can write beneath it.



The Dream-Vendor’s August
By Ben Okri
Issue no. 105 (Winter 1987)

When July passed with its thunderous downpours, and when August advanced with its dry winds and browning elephant grass, Joe felt himself at the mercy of a cyclical helplessness. Two years earlier, around the same time, Joe lost a woman he had been planning to marry. They had met one day to discuss their future together. Joe had catarrh. He made the mistake of blowing his nose in her presence, the act of which produced a long and disgusting sound. She didn’t show her disapproval, but afterwards all talk of marriage was avoided. When later on he learnt that she had become engaged to another man, Joe was shattered. He went around in a daze. He no longer walked with his former arrogant swing. He became clumsy and unsure of himself. He lost his job. One night in a bar when he tried to sound like his former arrogant self, he got involved in a fight and had two of his front teeth knocked into his mouth. Then he took to strangling his laughter.



Wild Bamboo, Late August
By Joyce Carol Oates
Issue no. 153 (Winter 1999)

Beyond our seed-littered pond a small forest of bamboo grows wild.
Hear the wind-rustling like shaken paper? Bamboo.
Shabby and peeling but erect with greeny health? Bamboo.
“The zombie of tree-life? Bamboo”—La Rochefoucauld.

Not to require beauty for survival? Bamboo.
Not to require syntax for survival? Bamboo.
Not to require your permission for survival? Bamboo.

To be wild bamboo is to march in all directions simultaneously.
Like the expanding universe of legend.

Like grace marching into our lives, unbidden.
Sometimes recognized, more often hidden …


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