Sunday, October 30, 2011


E. Ethelbert Miller asks: "If you were interviewing Charles Johnson what might be the first question you would ask him? Are there any questions you would love to discuss and talk about but few people ask you?"

If I were to interview me, I would begin with these 10 questions:
         (1) "Given that you were born just after World War II in 1948, just before America became a super-power and an empire in the second half of the 20th century, and only seven years before the Civil Rights Movement that ended racial segregation and completed the work left unfinished by the Civil War, how would you describe the specific challenges---artistic, intellectual, political, and personal---that you encountered and had to deal with as a citizen and a black member of the Baby Boom generation?" 
        (2) "We know that art does not happen outside history. Art is always forged in the tempestuous crucible of a particular historical moment. It is a specific hour in cultural history, in the enveloping society, and in the state of one's profession(s) at a moment in time, which define and determine the real creative and imaginative possibilities for the work of any artist, scientist, educator or scholar. His methods, the styles the artist selects from, even the questions he asks---all these are shaped by the specific cultural and historical forms in play (and sometimes out of play) when he begins to create. This being the case, in your work as a literary artist and philosopher, what was the state of these professions when you showed up? When you, as a young man, entered the domains of literature and philosophy, who was already in those rooms, so to speak, preceding you and whom you had to react to, positively or negatively? (And what did they think of you?) What forms were out of play in black and/or American literature, philosophy, and English departments when you showed up as a writer? Which were dominant?"
      (3) "Who are your ideal examples of black Americans? Which black predecessors do you draw inspiration from and why? Which blacks folks, past and present, disappoint you, make you want to pull out your hair, and turn in your Race identification card?"
      (4) "What is your attitude toward white people? Do you like any? If so, which ones and why? What do white and black Americans do that annoys you most?"
      (5) "What sort of hurts and pain happened to you when you were growing up that made the Buddhist message that begins with the fact of suffering so compelling to you? Do you think you will experience liberation in this life, and finally get off the Wheel of Rebirth?" 
      (6) "How have you and your wife managed to be married for 41 years? How did both of you change over time, but still manage to love each other and take each other's happiness as a priority? Do you enjoy Platonic relationships with other women?"
      (7) "What are your hopes for your children?"
      (8) "If you could have devoted your life to different professions than the ones you found yourself immersed in, what would those be?"
      (9) "Do you think that black Americans on the whole and in general will be competitive with other groups in a knowledge-based, global economy as the 21st century wears on?"
      (10) "What are your personal fantasies? The ones your imagination keeps returning to? The ones you practice meditation to free yourself from?"
            These 10 questions are just the start of what I would ask in a self-interview. I could go on with more questions. But, listen: if you ask me any of these questions, I won't answer some of them, because I intend to take the answers with me to my grave.

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