Difficult Radio Questions

I just looked in the rule book for writing blogs, and it said that in your third blog entry you are supposed to write about yourself “in a more personal way”. Whoo, good thing I looked. I was going to write about being invited to Mick Jagger’s house for lunch to discuss song writing. I guess that will have to wait.

Actually, in the appendix to the rule book for writing blogs, it said that in the third entry you must write about yourself, but if you are a writer and everything you say is a pack of lies anyway, there is somewhat more flexibility.

Thus. I was born in the same state as Ray Charles, who I had the good fortune to see once (onstage, I mean, we didn’t hang out together in our home state, or anything). For this reason I might be perceived as a southern writer, among those rare people who perceive me as a writer at all. It’s not like I don’t tell people I’m a writer. I do, but then I figure they’re thinking “yeah, yeah, but do you have a job?” Well…no.

I do not see myself as a “southern” writer because I hate that kind of categorization. I think writers have more in common with one another than they do with their category. So I also hate it when people talk about “women writers” or “black writers” or any kind of group. I know that one can make logical, sometimes even reasonable, arguments for such categorization. I don’t care. I hate it anyway. As writers, we are people who are compelled by language, both its complexity and its beauty, and we stare hopefully and anxiously at blankness, trying to fill it with language that will make some sense of human existence. That’s more important than where I was born or anything else about me.

Writers who have influenced me have probably been every writer I ever read, including bad ones. Every book I read now, if I happen to like it, I begin to feel that I should do something like that, that style, those ideas, that boldness of approach. And I always think “why are all those writers so much better than me?” The writer who I can most vividly cite as an influence is Shakespeare for breadth of subject matter and amazing range and depth of characters, and for his scintillating use of language like a bolt of lightning. I have also been greatly influenced to write humor by Mark Twain and a Russian writer from the 1920s named Zoshchenko. I am also in love with Dostoyevsky, in spite of his faults.

If anyone were ever to ask me on Terry Gross’ program Fresh Air whether I have some basic idea that unifies my writing, I have an answer. I am trying to capture what it means to be human. And then Terry of course will be obligated to say, “Well, um, that’s kind of dumb, don’t you think? Because nobody can do that.”

Man, she’s a tough one, that Terry Gross.

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