Friday, October 05, 2012

What have been your greatest literary influences ?

It's funny. I got turned on to words as a 16 year old troubled adolescent. It was a world literature class and I hated school, my teacher, the world. I graduated in the bottom 30th percent of my class and did well on standardized exams when I felt like it but generally I felt school was one big waste of time.

I think I got caught smoking a joint in the boys bathroom or something and was given what was called "in school suspension" which was basically where they separated you and MADE you do your homework under strict supervision.

Primeval shit. But anyway. I had to read The Stranger by Albert Camus or I'd get even into deeper trouble.

So on a starry New Jersey night I started to read and had what can only be described as an outer body experience.

I read it all in one sitting through the night. I didn't sleep and said please please ! I need to go to class ! I need to talk about this ! I was so deeply moved and frightened. I thought I was the stranger. I could feel myself killing the other. The Arab or whatever it represented. I could taste the salt ocean kisses Mersault had with Marie. I could see myself accepting the benign indifference of the world.

And they let me go. And I sat in the front row. I took someone else's seat and hadn't slept so I had a delirious look. But I was ready.

And then my very boring teacher proceeded to talk about the themes and world war 2. And didn't speak to me. I wanted to know if I really was The Stranger. And if other people felt they might be too.

But nothing came of that lecture. And I remember thinking. Wait. Maybe there is more. What is this literature thing about.

And then I went looking for that same high. And I think I still continue to feel and search for that same thing now, you know. That feeling that you are out of your body. That you feel and see things in a new and transcendent way.

So to answer your question, in a circuitous manner, Albert Camus. And then came Herman Hesse and then came Dostoevsky. And finally Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The original Gabo. My namesake.

And since then I am influenced and moved by certain writers. Tolstoy and Bulgakov, for example. But it's not the same.

I'm not sure if that is because I'm older and less susceptible to the wonder of first love or what. But basically my early influences remain my current ones. The ones I look back on and want to re read and know more about.

I feel bad for people who never experienced what I experienced. It's like not having sex or something. Or the experience of a French meal.

That's why I taught literature to under privileged kids as they call them, in the inner city of New York.

The government wanted to give them skills. I wanted them to experience the pleasure and the wonder that comes from understanding who you are and what the hell you are doing here.

To this day, despite my numerous accolades and achievements. The best thing I did was turn a 15 year old on to James Baldwin.

Everything else is just gravy compared to that.

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