I was raised in Harlem. I never found a book that took place in Harlem. I never had a church like mine in a book. I never had people like the people I knew. People who could not find their lives in books and celebrated felt bad about themselves. I needed to write to include the lives of these young people.
I keep threatening to keep a formal journal, but whenever I start one it instantly becomes an exercise in self-consciousness. Instead of a journal I manage to have dozens of notebooks with bits and pieces of stories, poems, and notes. Almost every thing I do has its beginning in a notebook of some sort, usually written on a bus or train.
There was a time I was no longer going to be black. I was going to be an 'intellectual.' When I was first looking around for colleges, thinking of colleges I couldn't afford to go to, I was thinking of being a philosopher. I began to understand then that much of my feelings about race were negative.
As a young man, I saw families prosper without reading because there were always sufficient opportunities for willing workers who could follow simple instructions. This is no longer the case. Children who don't read are, in the main, destined for lesser lives. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to change this.
One of the lessons learned during the Vietnam War was that the depiction of wounded soldiers, of coffins stacked higher than their living guards, had a negative effect on the viewing public. The military in Iraq specifically banned the photographing of wounded soldiers and coffins, thus sanitizing this terrible and bloody conflict.
To fight for one's country, to offer one's very life to promote the well being of the United States, is truly a noble undertaking. But so is the vigilance of the citizen who carefully examines our leaders to see if political problems are being solved by wars simply because this seems to be the easiest solution.
After so many books and so many years of writing, I have a good idea of my strengths and weaknesses. I love the process of writing and, if I allowed myself, I would write far too much every day. One weakness which I've struggled to overcome is my tendency to having my characters ruminate for pages.
What I found fascinating was just how quickly the best of the young Negro League players were drafted into the major leagues once Branch Rickey broke the color line by hiring Jackie Robinson. It was clear that all of the major league owners already knew the talents of the black ballplayers that they had refused to let into their league.
Now, my mom did not read well and she read 'True Romance' magazines, but she read with me. And she would spend 30 minutes a day, her finger going along the page, and I learned to read. Eventually, by the time I was four and a half, she could iron and I could sit there and read the 'True Romance.' And that was wonderful.
There were two very distinct voices going on in my head and I moved easily between them. One had to do with sports, street life and establishing myself as a male... The other voice, the one I had from my street friends and teammates, was increasingly dealing with the vocabulary of literature.
I joined the army on my seventeenth birthday, full of the romance of war after having read a lot of World War I British poetry and having seen a lot of post-World War II films. I thought the romantic presentations of war influenced my joining and my presentation of war to my younger siblings.
From my foster parents, the Deans, I received the love that was ultimately to strengthen me, even when I had forgotten its source. It was my foster mother, a half-Indian, half-German woman, who taught me to read, though she herself was barely literate. I remember her reading to me every day from 'True Romance' magazine.
I began going to juvenile prisons. And some of these kids face some very, very tough lives. How do they handle these lives? Do they even know that if their life is bad, that they're still OK? Do they know that? Do they know that someone is thinking the same way that they're thinking?