Writer’s Corner: Finding Out What You Don’t Want to Know

jamesbaldwin1By the time James Baldwin gave this interview to The Paris Review in 1984, his time was past as one of the writers whose voice was loudest in the great postwar arguments over what America would and should be. He was living in semi-exile in France at the time of the interview, heading into his 60s, but still full of burnt truths and hard-fought advice. Such as:

  • “The whole language of writing for me is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out. But something forces you to anyway.”
  • “Painters have often taught writers how to see. And once you’ve had that experience, you see differently.”
  • [On starting out reviewing books for small change] “I had to read everything and had to write all the time, and that’s a great apprenticeship.”
  • “I doubt whether anyone—myself at least—knows how to talk about writing.”
  • “I do a lot of rewriting. It’s very painful. You know it’s finished when you can’t do anything more to it, though it’s never exactly the way you want it.”

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