What role did books play in your early life?
As a child, I loved books because they spoke of a life outside of the life I knew. There were images of beaches and ancient cathedrals and open plains where animals roamed. I had a hard time getting books in rural Arkansas, but when I did, I devoured them in a day. That presented a dilemma because then I had nothing to read. So I began the tradition of reading books repeatedly. This developed the skill of close reading and made me see that books have far more than most can capture in one perusal. The Good Earth by Pearl Buck was a book I grew to treasure as well as James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son.
Do you have a favorite writing space?
I’m on my 7th novel, and I’ve discovered that each book has demanded a different writing space. For some, I write outside. One of my novels, Perfect Peace, I wrote almost entirely in Piedmont Park. Some days I sat in a lawn chair beneath a huge tree literally from sunup to dark. It would only come in that context. Others, like They Tell Me of a Home, I could only write while it rained. It’s the strangest thing. The Coming, my novel about the horrors and triumphs of the Middle Passage, I wrote sitting on the edge of my living room sofa. It morphed into the hull of a slave ship and became my receiving place for this narrative.
Do you have those moments when words are difficult to come by?
Lord have mercy! Do I!! I have moments when, in the middle of writing, I sense the perfect word but can’t find it anywhere in my mind. What I’ve learned to do is leave a blank space on the page until it comes. This is hard for me—very hard—because I like to be content about my work as I construct it. I like to feel as if it is complete in the birthing, but it’s never true. NEVER. I revise everything I write. Usually two or three times. And usually that perfect word doesn’t come until the revision stage. Sometimes not at all. And sometimes I discover that there IS a perfect word, but I don’t know it, so I work to expand my vocabulary.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about writing for the African-American market?
I’ve discovered, quite to my delight, that black people love to read AND love a well-written story. I can’t tell you the number of times my people have thanked me for writing GOOD literature—not sex-driven, error-filled works that have no merit. They hate that stuff, and they hate that publishers push this trash as African American literature.
Does the writing get easier with each book? Or does it get more difficult because you’re also growing as an author with each work?
This is a great and a complicated question to answer. Yes, it gets easier because with each book completed, I’m more convinced that I can do this craft. However, each book is far harder for me because I grow in between and I try to write better with each attempt. It’s grueling actually, knowing that you’re competing most against yourself, but that’s true for me.
How can an aspiring author get better at writing?
You have to read the masters. It’s just that simple. They’ve honed the craft; they’ve figure out the tricks of the trade. So inundating one’s self with their words, their form, their craft seems to me the best way to improve.
Do you think writing courses and writer’s workshops are worth the investment for aspiring authors?
Absolutely. I cannot encourage this enough. These gatherings are as much about networking as about the craft of writing. And writers NEED other writers. That is one of the most important things I’ve discovered. Other writers read for you and blurb for you and keep you encouraged when self-doubt creeps in. Also, workshops teach aspects of writing that mere reading won’t address. I went to a very well-known writing workshop called Breadloaf a few years ago, and it changed my life.
My fiction writing instructor was the famous Charles_____ and he exposed me to dimensions of writing that have made all the difference in my skill. I’m forever indebted to him and Breadloaf for that knowledge and experience.
From what you have seen, can web marketing and social media be a helpful tool in selling books?
Yes! Absolutely! The problem here is that most writers, including myself, are far more cerebral that social media demands. We are simply insular artists who need our space and time to create—not to spend on social media sites. BUT this is the contemporary tool if one wishes to establish him/herself in this postmodern literary market. I think the best thing for most writers to do is simply hire a social media specialist. It’ll pay off fast.
About the Author
Bio (brief): Dr. Black is a renowned, award-winning novelist. His works include THEY TELL ME OF A HOME, THE SACRED PLACE, PERFECT PEACE, TWELVE GATES TO THE CITY, and now THE COMING and LISTEN TO THE LAMBS. Dr. Black has been nominated for The Townsend Literary Prize three times, The Ernest J. Gaines Award, the Ferro-Grumbley Literary Prize, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Georgia Author of the Year Prize twice. In 2014, he won the Distinguished Writer’s Award from the Mid-Atlantic Writer’s Association. For PERFECT PEACE, the GOG National Book Club Committee named him its “Author of the Year” in 2011. This novel has been reprinted more than 10 times and is being heralded as a major American literary classic.
Presently, Dr. Black is full-professor of African American Studies at Clark Atlanta University. The Coming, one of his most recent releases, is a first-hand account of the trauma and triumph of Africans on a slave ship in the 16th century. Early reviewers have deemed this work “brilliant”, “poetic”, and “a literary homage to the lives of those Africans tossed into the sea.” It is now in circulation and has been nominated for the 2016 Townsend Award in Fiction. In February of 2016, Dr. Black released yet another long-awaited work, titled Listen to the Lambs. This novel explores the lives and agency of homeless people who find each other on the street and create lives of meaning without material substance.
Dr. Black lives in Atlanta and is the founder of the Ndugu-Nzinga rites of passage nation.
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