The Art of Distance No. 12


The Art of Distance

The Paris Review began sending out The Art of Distance twelve weeks ago, with the intention of offering hope, solidarity, and good company to readers facing a global pandemic. The pandemic continues, but the killing of George Floyd by police brought to the fore two other deep-rooted crises in our communities: police brutality and systemic racism in America. The Paris Review opposes racism and injustice. We are determined to work with contributors and readers and as an organization to make our industry a more equitable, dynamic, and creative place. This is a long process, but the Review believes it is vital and imperative work.

This week, we’re sharing six more Writers at Work interviews with Black American writers and listing resources for those who wish to contribute to the movement. May these conversations and organizations offer a measure of inspiration and consolation, and may spending time with these texts remind us that this necessary work is ongoing.

Stay safe, whether you are at home or in the streets.

—The Paris Review

This week, we’re highlighting more of the Black American voices in our archive by lifting the paywall on the following interviews (the interviews opened last week remain available as well):

Maya Angelou, The Art of Fiction No. 119

“I thought early on if I could write a book for black girls it would be good because there were so few books for a black girl to read that said this is how it is to grow up. Then, I thought, I’d better, you know, enlarge that group, the market group that I’m trying to reach. I decided to write for black boys and then white girls and then white boys.”

Samuel R. Delany, The Art of Fiction No. 210

“The city gets you used to crowds, used to people relating to one another in a certain way, like strong and weak interactions between elementary particles. The strong interactions only come into play when the particles are extremely close, less than the distance of a single atomic nucleus. Those are the interactions readers want to see in novels. At the same time, paradoxically, cities can be dreadfully isolating places. The Italian poet Leopardi wrote in a letter to his sister, Paulina, about Rome, that its spaces didn’t enclose people, they fell between people and kept them apart.”

Ralph Ellison, The Art of Fiction No. 8

“Now, mind, I recognize no dichotomy between art and protest. Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground is, among other things, a protest against the limitations of nineteenth-century rationalism; Don Quixote, Man’s Fate, Oedipus Rex, The Trial—all these embody protest, even against the limitation of human life itself.”

Charles Johnson, The Art of Fiction No. 239

“We’ve lost something. And so my question is, What does it mean to be civil? What kind of person do you have to be? That’s an idea we can trace back through two thousand years of Western history, and the East as well, going back four or five thousand years. It’s not a question that is going to go away.”

Edward P. Jones, The Art of Fiction No. 222

“Ten or so years ago, someone asked me to come to her class and answer questions about Lost in the City. This one white woman said she had trouble feeling or caring about any people who weren’t like her. You hear that and it’s like somebody slapped you in the face.”

Ishmael Reed, The Art of Poetry No. 100

“With literature you can condemn the powerful, and you can critique the powerful. Of course, Dante paid for it. He was never able to return to Florence. He died in exile. He endured a lot to speak his mind. They tell us, Don’t write about politics. You know, because the politics is aimed at them. But Dante had a political office! And some of those characters in Dante’s Inferno are political opponents of his. The same with Shakespeare. His work was political. I was reading The Merchant of Venice the other day and it includes one of the most devastating antislavery arguments ever written. So I don’t know where they get the bourgeois idea that art shouldn’t be political.”


We also urge you to engage with the following resources shared by organizations that are dedicated to working against police brutality or to uplifting Black voices and communities.

The Schomburg Center’s Black Liberation Reading List

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is curating this list of new and classic books in all genres for adults and kids.

Order from These Black-Owned Bookstores

Lit Hub has compiled a user-friendly list of Black-owned bookstores across the country.

Entropy Magazine: Where to Submit: Bail Fund Edition

Entropy has devoted a big slot in this monthly column to a list of bail funds and community organizations working to assist protesters and others.

The Brown Bookshelf: KidLit Rally 4 Black Lives

Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jason Reynolds presented this panel on June 4, the first half for kids, the second for parents, to offer resources, solidarity, inspiration, and active ways of fighting racism through literature for kids.