Art Works Blog

Notable Quotable: Big Read #BlackHistoryMonth

As we close out Black History Month, we wanted to take Big Read Friday to share a few writers' thoughts on what it has meant to be African-American, and how their background has influenced their writing. Click on each author or poet's name for an in-depth interview.  

"You begin to love to write because you grew up loving to read and as a young man, especially growing up in the Midwest with this very complicated identity of being both black and African, and not knowing exactly where I fit in, I found that books were often times the most comfortable place for me. And so, by the time I was in high school, I spent most of my weekends and evenings devouring books and that's where I often felt the most at home." -Dinaw Mengestu, author of Big Read title The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

"I'm a writer. And I also happen to be a person of color and I happen to be a woman. I no longer try to distance myself from those labels. It's just who I am. It's how I see the world, it's how I move through the world. So, of course, my writing will sometimes reflect that. It's part of my identity but I'm still a writer." -Author Roxane Gay

"I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads." -Zora Neale Hurston, author of Big Read title Their Eyes Were Watching God

"I said, well, I'm writing for so many people, I don't write for any particular group. And he said, what if a gun was to your head? And I said, well, hopefully I write for the black youth of the South to help him find his way in and know something about his past so maybe it'll help him in his future. And he said, what if the gun is still at your head? I said, well, I write for white youth of the South to let him know that unless he knows something about his neighbor over the last 300 years, he knows only half of his own history." -Ernest Gaines, author of Big Read title A Lesson Before Dying, in response to the question "For whom do you write?"

"I loved reading as a teenager and found solace in books. The poverty that I experienced as a 13- and 14-year-old, the growing recognition that as a black child I would face difficulties that I thought my friends would not, led me to seek books as a refuge from a more difficult world." -Author Walter Dean Myers

"Being a black poet is my greatest asset and my greatest liability. As an African American I have native access to more forms of cultural expression and cultural memory than many other American poets will grant themselves. On the other hand, with each poem I risk criticism from both inside and outside the black community that I am improperly performing blackness. Whether or not I intend to put my blackness on display, my blackness is always on display. Of course, there is no proper way to perform blackness, but because it is such a jealously guarded quality some people feel the need to tell others how it is to be enjoyed." -Poet Gregory Pardlo

"I wrote the first book because I wanted to read it. I thought that kind of book, with that subject—those most vulnerable, most undescribed, not taken seriously little black girls—had never existed seriously in literature. No one had ever written about them except as props. Since I couldn’t find a book that did that, I thought, 'Well, I’ll write it and then I’ll read it.' It was really the reading impulse that got me into the writing thing." -Toni Morrison

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