You know what needs to be done when you're a writer. You know what the job is, particularly if you're an African American writer, or if you deal with people, or if your subjects are poor people or people who need voice. So you don't really need to know whether or not you are doing the right thing. What you have to be wary of if you're doing the right thing to the right level that will surpass your own life. I'm hoping that my work will surpass my own life.
I could have been, and may one day well be a high school English teacher, because I've been given so much I just feel like I have to give something back. The fact that some people consider my work to be good or strong, it's nice, but I know in my heart that if it's not coming - oftentimes it's probably not coming from the best place.
The Good Lord Bird don't run in a flock. He Flies alone. You know why? He's searching. Looking for the right tree. And when he sees that tree, that dead tree that's taking all the nutrition and good things from the forest floor. He goes out and he gnaws at it, and he gnaws at it till the thing gets tired and it falls down. And the dirt from it raises other trees. It gives them good things to eat. It makes 'em strong. Gives 'em life. And the circle goes 'round.
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There's such a big difference between being dead and alive, I told myself, the greatest gift that anyone can give anyone else is life. And the greatest sin a person can do to another is to take away that life. Next to that, all the rules and religions in the world are secondary; mere words and beliefs that people choose to believe and kill and hate by. My life won't be lived that way, and neither, I hope, will my children's.
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That was the Old Man's favorite song. 'Blow Ye Trumpet.' Them Negroes was far away from the doings on the plaza where the Old Man was to hang, way out from it. But they sang it loud and clear... Blow ye trumpet blow Blow ye trumpet blow... You could hear their voices for a long way, seemed like they lifted up and carried all the way into the sky, lingering in the air long afterward. And up above the church, high above it, a strange black-and-white bird circled 'round, looking for a tree to roost on, a bad tree, I expect, so he could alight upon it and get busy, so that it would someday fall and feed the others.
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The old face, crinkled and dented with canals running every which way, pushed and shoved up against itself for a while, till a big old smile busted out from beneath 'em all, and his grey eyes fairly glowed. It was the first time I ever saw him smile free. A true smile. It was like looking at the face of God. And I knowed then, for the first time, that him being the person to lead the colored to freedom weren't no lunacy. It was something he knowed true inside him. I saw it clear for the first time. I knowed then, too, that he knowed what I was - from the very first.
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...since I was a little boy, she had always wanted me to go. She was always sending me off on a bus someplace, to elementary school, to camp, to relatives in Kentucky, to college. She pushed me away from her just as she'd pushed my elder siblings away when we lived in New York, literally shoving them out the front door when they left for college.
As a journalist, I never critiqued anyone. I never review books. I've never felt qualified as a musician to say whether someone is a good musician or a bad musician. What happens with Black writers and Black artists is that if you're critiqued, for example, by a Black historian who wants to get his name on the cover of "The New York Times," and he says something, like, wacky, well, he'll get his name on the cover of "The New York Times" and he might get tenure, and your career suffers.
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You're not a Black man. You're a human being in God's eyes. So when you sit down to talk to someone and you talk to them in really intelligent terms, you ask difficult questions, there's a militancy that's assigned to you without you asking for it, because you are simply judged by what you look like. If you're a white person asking the same questions, you'd be one of these CNN guys and say how brilliant he is. That doesn't work for you, because this is the world we live in.
The starting point of all great jazz has got to be format, a language that you can work within that, in some ways, is much tighter than the blues or even gospel. It's all working towards the same destination - the difference being that Miles Davis flew there, and I'm still taking the subway.
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