You have lived through a period of big change for black people. When Obama became President what did you feel?
I love Obama. That’s my feeling. There was Martin Luther King and then there was Obama, and he had two terms. I love Obama, and he loves me. He invited me to the party, and my son Ford and I went. His daughter was interested in writing, and his wife suggested she come here to talk to me, and she did and she’s lovely. Then she got an internship with Harvey Weinstein. She’s at Yale now, and I want to speak to her about that: “Tell me about Harvey!”
But nowadays the USA has Trump, a very different President from Obama?
What a humiliation he is. I didn’t think that was possible. He didn’t win. Hillary got three million more votes than Trump, but the Electoral College, which was designed in the south to make sure that whoever became President was beholden to white southerners, overrides the popular vote.
Is America in danger with Trump as President?
Yes. It’s a kind of corruption; and corrupt without embarrassment. Normally when you get a bad leader a whole lot of people are embarrassed. Some people are embarrassed about Donald Trump, but not enough. He lies every minute; everything he says. He is so ignorant, so vile, so shallow, so self-centred, egocentric, vengeful. Donald Trump is an old man, he’s 72, and he should stop being president. When I read Bob Woodward’s book Fear
I said: “O God, it’s worse than I thought.” And I thought bad things.
Is he a racist?
It’s not important to him. Money is important to him. I suppose he likes rich black people.
Did winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993 change your life?
No, how could it? They gave me some money, which I spent. It made a lot of people mad, some people angry. They wrote close-to-insulting articles, saying: “What did they give it to her for?”
Do you think there is more freedom and less prejudice now?
Yes, I do. My life has changed because I am well known, but the real test is my grandchildren, who never think about the things I thought about at their age. They feel superior as people. One is in Jordan studying Arabic, not as “a black girl”, but as “a person who wants to study Arabic in Jordan”. That would never have occurred to me at that age. I was a person, but I was “a very proud black person”. It was a category, like being “a very proud gay person”.
Does it become more difficult to write when you win awards and gain recognition?
No. Look at that (she points to a pile of yellow paper pages)
. That’s my new novel. I spent the morning talking to my editor Bob Gottlieb about that. The working title is Justice
. I like a one word title that sums up something in the book, either a character or a person, somebody who lives there, or an atmosphere.
Is black literature still alive today?
It has moved. The music of black people was the most important thing, and then finally it moved and the black writing and literature became important. Now it’s nothing to single out.
Are there any particular writers you admire?
William Faulkner was a great favourite of mine. I met him a couple of times, even went to his house. He wrote very well, but there are a lot of good writers. What I liked was his mind. He had a close language and personal feeling for people. He was a boring old man, although I am sure not to his friends, but his characters were extraordinary.
Do you read new writers?
I do. Some young women are like a new breed of writer, with different things they are interested in. Women have made big progress.
Do you consider your writing to be poetical?
A lot of people have said so. What they mean is I have elevated language. I think all novels should be elevated. I don’t like journalistic prose for a novel.
Have you had a good life?
I have lived a long life, and it’s good.
Will you keep writing?
“O my people out yonder, hear me… hear me now. Love your heart. For this is the prize.” Beloved
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