John Brown first swam into my vision in the 1960s when I was a political activist in the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement at Chapel Hill, where I went to university.
And out of a desire essentially to imitate what I was reading, I began to write, like a clever monkey.
I much prefer working with kids whose life could be completely upended by a reading of a book over a weekend. You give them a book to read - they go home and come back a changed person. And that is so much more interesting and exciting.
So the same cultural and political issues that divided us in 1968 are still dividing us.
For almost anyone who chooses to be a writer, since so very few writers are able to learn a living from their work that is equivalent to the living earned by the average dentist or accountant.
Lists of books we reread and books we can't finish tell more about us than about the relative worth of the books themselves.
If you dedicate your attention to discipline in your life you become smarter while you are writing than while you are hanging out with your pals or in any other line of work.
Motivations are too tangled and complex.
The 60s passed and faded and I grew older, and in 1987 bought a house in upstate New York, and it turned out that John Brown was buried down the road from my house and that he had lived there longer than anywhere else and his house was still standing.
My major allegiance has been to storytelling, not to history.
Nobody does anything for one reason.
Through writing, through that process, they realize that they become more intelligent, and more honest and more imaginative than they can be in any other part of their life.
I don't want it to be all that self-conscious or artificial, but it really grows out of my having invented myself as a listener so that I could hear her voice.
Although I still occasionally paint and draw, my life has now been shaped by my writing.
And there are people who want to be writers because they love to write. And they care.
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