The interviewers, with their pads, pens and desperately neutral glances, always asked about other black writers, as though they were the only writers you had ever met, read or studied. They ignored the fact that you must have had to study their writers, since books by nonwhite writers rarely, if ever, found their way into textbooks.
(We will for now forget those periods of the pre-Harlem Renaissance, the Renaissance itself, and Renaissance II, which are traceable to troubel on the plantation and later in the streets.)
The interviewers judged all writings without hesitation, suspending, however, literary judgment only in the case of nonwhite writers, because the interviewers (and critics and reviewers - often one and the same) [p. 179] were so innately positive that literary ingredients could not possibly be present.
They patronized, or tried to. They were snide, or tried to be. They were overtly disdainful of nearly every story you related because they were secretly surprised that you could hag a sentence together at all and compose narrative and dialogue. Like pecking birds, they tapped at the surface of things; beneath that surface, vast gaps were being closed to within percentage points, even according to their rules. So they insisted that the novel be written so they could understand it, the way they understand rock's emphasized beat, the way they could not understand the subtleties of a Thelonious Monk; they forgot, if the ever knew, that the novel is novel and therefore often requires decoding, which they do very well when the writers are white. They wrote for each other. The author under discussion was often secundary. The literary community, though powerful, was really small and quite incestuous. If then they wrote badly or viciously about an author who was black, they knew in advance that that author or his agent or publisher would not return to haunt them. For what real contacts did the author have? Whom did he or she know? Therefore they turned to nonwhite authors with a distinct sense of relief, for surely we were a people without leverage, familiar with few power brokers in the business who would be willing to go to the wall for us. These interviewers, critics and reviewers, by their acts and attitudes, acknowledged the war. They regarded almost every work by a nonwhite author as a political action. They were almost correct (because a few of those works could not by any unwinding of the imagination be so considered), but failed to understand the politics - or, conversely, understood them perfectly. They did seem to comprehend, along with some like-minded editors, that they were functionaries of the cultural mechanisms of the West, a gemot whose verdicts became, if not the law, the practice. How could they then allow certain other people into their ranks on other than a temporary / token basis? To be sure, they admired Latin writers - but those in Latin, not North, America; they admired black writers, but many of those were from Africa and, in the case of Afro-Americans, dead; from the Caribbean they much adored, observely, the minority rather than the majority writers, those who deplored, laughed at or debased the island societies of which they were part; they exulted when good works on the Indian experience appeared, though not those written by the Amer-Indian himself, and they preferred Asian female writers to all like John Okada. And because they were a club, they frequently relegated to our ranks a few of their own.