Between speeches and awards, you can find something to do every other week. It's hard to write. Your focus gets splintered. Once you put one thing in your calendar, that month is gone.
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From Borges, those wonderful gaucho stories from which I learned that you can be specific as to a time and place and culture and still have the work resonate with the universal themes of love, honor, duty, betrayal, etc. From Amiri Baraka, I learned that all art is political, although I don't write political plays.
I don't look at our society today too much. My focus is still in the past, and part of the reason is because what I do - the wellspring of art, or what I do - l get from the blues. So I listen to the music of a particular period that I'm working on, and I think inside the music is clues to what is happening with the people.
I dropped out of school, but I didn't drop out of life. I would leave the house each morning and go to the main branch of the Carnegie Library in Oakland where they had all the books in the world... I felt suddenly liberated from the constraints of a pre-arranged curriculum that labored through one book in eight months.
I once wrote a short story called 'The Best Blues Singer in the World,' and it went like this: 'The streets that Balboa walked were his own private ocean, and Balboa was drowning.' End of story. That says it all. Nothing else to say. I've been rewriting that same story over and over again. All my plays are rewriting that same story.
I think all in all, one thing a lot of plays seem to be saying is that we need to, as black Americans, to make a connection with our past in order to determine the kind of future we're going to have. In other words, we simply need to know who we are in relation to our historical presence in America.
I've seen some terrible plays, but I generally enjoy myself. One play I walked out of, I have a tremendous respect for the author. That was Robert Wilson, something called 'Network,' which consisted of Wilson sitting on a bunk, the dialogue of the movie 'Network' looped in while a chair on a rope went up and down.
It was early on in 1965 when I wrote some of my first poems. I sent a poem to 'Harper's' magazine because they paid a dollar a line. I had an eighteen-line poem, and just as I was putting it into the envelope, I stopped and decided to make it a thirty-six-line poem. It seemed like the poem came back the next day: no letter, nothing.