Acclaimed writer Marita Golden is the author of more than a dozen books, both fiction and nonfiction, including Living Out Loud, The Word, A Woman's Place, and Migrations of the Heart. She also has taught writing at a variety of universities, including Johns Hopkins and Fairfield.
Q: In your book The Word, you write, "The current national discourse about literacy and literature is especially relevant to Black Americans. Our future as a people, our ability to sit at the table where the blueprints for tomorrow are drawn up means that this conversation is not just necessary; it is urgent." In recent decades, has the level of urgency remained constant, or has it changed?
A: Well, what has happened is that the discourse about literature and literacy has to some extent in the Black community been hijacked by the discussion about standardized test scores. Throughout the country test scores have come to be a substitute for thoughtful and deep class discussion of ideas and deep thinking. Yet despite the proliferation of social media technology, literacy and literature remain very important issues to address for all communities but especially for communities that have a tradition of marginalization.
It has been heartening to have a President who monitors his daughters' use of social media and tv and encourages them to read a lot. Some of the most important writers of the last century from Hurston to Baldwin to August Wilson have been born and bred in the African American community. There is an impressive group of young Black writers at work today but there needs to be a converted national effort to address illiteracy, a nagging problem, throughout the country.
Q: In Living Out Loud: A Writer's Journey, you describe how your mother predicted when you were 12 that one day, you would write a book. Did you always think you would end up being a writer?
A: I had no idea that "writer" was a viable career choice or path for me until I was in college. I knew I would always be writing, and I suspected that from an early age but the transition to being a "writer" in the public/authorial and authoritative sense took a while. Of course what helped was coming of age just as Maya Angelou, AliceWalker, Toni Morrison and other significant Black women writers were creating their public voices. I read their work and saw a reflection of myself in it and was inspired to chisel out a public space of my own by writing not just for myself but for a public audience.
Q: How did you select the authors to include in The Word and the other collections you have edited?
A: I selected writers in The Word to ensure a wide diversity of ages and backgrounds and genres. So there is a journalist/biographer--Wil Haygood, a playwright/novelist--Pearl Cleage, an iconic poet--Nikki Giovanni, and a gifted young writer from Nigeria--Chimamanda Adichie among the group. I am pretty proud that the book represents the African diaspora and includes voices from the Black Arts Movement up to today's young writers.
Q: You have written fiction and nonfiction, and you've also edited anthologies and other works. Do you have a favorite among the different types of writing that you've done, and if so, what is it? As a writing teacher, do you focus on a particular type of writing with your students?
A: Although I have written both fiction and nonfiction, fiction remains for me the Mt. Kilimanjaro of writing because it is based so much in imagination. I love fiction also because once you are launched on a fictional journey you literally have no idea where you will end up. You have to grow into the ability to tell the story and know the characters deeply and that sometimes takes years, it always takes longer than you think it will. Even when a novel is inspired by actual events in the hands of a literary novelist it takes on a new life of its own that can speak beyond the actual event and that is the place where the reader can claim the story as their own. However in my teaching in the MA program at Johns Hopkins and in the low-residency program at Fairfield University I teach both fiction and nonfiction and enjoy working with writers on memoirs and creative nonfiction.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Currently I am working on a novel.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I am offering a writing workshop in Jamaica the last week in June, visit my website and join my listserve for info.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb