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Archive for the 'Guests' Category

Each week Powells.com invites a new author to be our Guest Blogger. Guests post new blog entries daily, and their featured books are on sale for 30% off the week before and of their tenure.

Room to Write

Tell us about the places you have written. The actual place where you set up your writing desk. Were there windows you looked out of? What did you see?

Faraway Places was written at 211 East Fifth Street, Apt. 1A, in Manhattan. My apartment was a studio about nine feet wide and not a lot longer. I got the apartment for free and $400 a month for being the super of three buildings on East Fifth. There were two long, narrow windows facing East Fifth Street, but I always had the rust-colored Levolors closed. My first computer was on a small table that butted up against a larger dinner table. From where I sat, I could reach out and touch the kitchen sink. Behind me was one of the only two places in the studio where two people could stand. Right behind me was the bathroom door. You had to move the chair to get into the bathroom. In the loft bed above the bathroom I had a black and white TV with a coat hanger for an antenna. I could only get PBS and for some ...


Writing about the Dead and Bringing Them Back to Life

In my novel, In the City of Shy Hunters, there were so many dead friends to write about. There's a line in Shy Hunters: "It's the responsibility of the survivor to tell the story." As I was writing the book, I felt the wisdom of that line very keenly. And since I was the one responsible, I had to get the story right. In order to get the story right, I had to go back to the Manhattan of the '80s and tell everything I knew that was true about those days, everything that was true about that place. I really became obsessed by it. For many people, the story of In the City of Shy Hunters is just too harsh and too real. There is so much death and it doesn't let up. But that's the way it was for me. Everyone was dying and I knew I was sick and nowhere could I find redemption. In many of my books, I go to nature to soften the blows of the hard story I'm telling. But in Manhattan, there was no nature. Even Central Park was ...


What’s Allowed and What’s Forbidden

What for you is the relationship between writing and death? Not just literal death but dying emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. Dying to one's own ego, dying to what's allowed and what's forbidden. Writing about the dead and bringing them back to life through writing?

I'll try to answer this part of the question: What is it like for me to die to what's allowed and what's forbidden? Part of the fictive invented I is that you get to be braver, bigger, stronger than you really are. There are risks you can take sitting at home at your computer that out there in the real world are much more difficult to do. But that's what fiction is for. In real life, you may wish you would have done or said something at a certain time. With fiction, you don't have to wish. You can do it. But just because it's fiction doesn't mean it's not a difficult task. To face up to your demons takes a lot of chutzpah wherever you are. Most of what we fear is internal. Most of what we fear is the way we've internalized our parents, ...


Writing Where It Hurts

You write about things that are deep and painful. Do you emotionally relive the painful feelings and experiences? Does the process of writing your novels bring pain or relieve it?

I write about things that make us human. There is a great Zen saying that goes: when you meet someone, look them closely in the eyes, for inside those eyes a great battle is waging. Really all of us human beings are essentially in the same place. We are on a battlefield. Each battlefield may be different, but in the end, we're all facing some very human things: aging, loss, sickness, and death.

Someone asked me once if I have a writing muse. I answered that I go to where it hurts inside me. Or I go to where I feel most afraid. Where we find resistance inside us is where our muse lives.

While I am writing I feel the pain, or I purposely go to where the pain is and conjure it up. The trick for me is that I'm writing in first person. I have invented an "I." And this invented "I" as soon as ...


One Crucial Tip for New Writers

If you could dispense with a single point of advice/wisdom to a new but promising writer, what would it be? And why?

Your best friend is in town and you haven't seen him or her in years. You have something very profound that has happened to you that your friend does not know about yet. You go to a bar and after two margaritas you begin to tell her/him this very important thing that has happened to you. Remember, you are intimate with this person. You don't have to keep up any appearances. Because you trust your friend, you can let it rip. Nothing is taboo. This profound thing is something that you must share. In fact, the actual sharing of it with your friend is a huge part of its importance.

You're going to treat this experience with your friend as if you were talking to your friend but actually you are writing. The trick is to write like you talk. Often the trouble with writing is that it sounds written, not spoken. So many of us have years and years of creative writing jammed into our ...


Why Richard Pryor? Why Us?

When we first set out to write this book, we both had serious doubts about our credentials, whether we had the right to present our version of Richard Pryor in such a format and at such length. Although we had spent years researching and writing a screenplay called Pryor, authoring a book is another thing entirely. A book, to our way of thinking, carries greater authority and presupposes a greater burden of responsibility. Screenplays are like blueprints, and the ones that get made into movies are later reimagined and reshaped by whole squadrons of artists, actors, technicians, producers, and money people. This book is our own. Even though — this needs to be said — this book was shepherded and considerably improved by the steady hand of our Algonquin editor Chuck Adams, it has our names on the title page.

Richard Pryor has loomed large in our imaginations since our early teens. We're old enough to remember him from his early TV appearances on Ed Sullivan and afternoon talk shows, but it wasn't until we heard his LPs — first from schoolmates ...


Richard Pryor among the Panthers

It was uncanny. Like Zelig, Richard Pryor perpetually found himself where it was at, in the company of those who were it. Whatever "it" was.

On the Midwestern Chitlin' Circuit in the 1950s, he toured with Chuck Berry, Redd Foxx, and LaWanda Page; in the early '60s Greenwich Village he shared cellar club stages with Woody Allen, George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Lenny Bruce, Bob Dylan, and Ritchie Havens; on Ed Sullivan with Alan King, Ben Stiller, and Boots Randolf; on afternoon talk shows with Joey Heatherton, Truman Capote, Ruth Buzzi, Milton Berle, Joan Rivers, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and Steve McQueen; in Vegas he rubbed shoulders with Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Sinatra, and Shecky Greene; in West Hollywood with Janis, The Doors, Van Morrison; and then in Berkeley — especially in Berkeley — where he had his political awakening discussing Black Power and Malcolm X with literary lights such as Cecil Brown, Ishmael Reed, Claude Brown, Al Young, and Black Panther Party leaders Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seal, and Angela Davis.

Gilbert Moore, in his book A Special Rage (expanded from a Life magazine assignment to ...


Open the Door, Richard

"Will it play in Peoria?" was more than an alliterative showbiz catchphrase. Richard Pryor's hometown was the logistical stopover for vaudeville troupes and itinerant performers traveling between bookings in Chicago and St. Louis. As such, Peoria had more than its share of theatres for a town with a population of less than 80,000 people when his future grandmother and her fellow Louisianan migrants settled there after the first World War.

As silent movies became the rage, vaudeville performers could not help but notice that most of the new theatres were being built without stages, only screens. Then radio came along and killed vaudeville completely.

With the advent of radio, people could hear their favorite stars without even leaving the house. Milton Berle and Jack Benny entertained far more people in a single broadcast than they could have in a lifetime out on the road. Those who made the leap to radio found themselves suddenly flush with cash — and frantic to come up with new material every week (in some cases, every weeknight) while a seasoned vaudevillian could make a career off of one well-honed routine.

Such was ...


No One Could Do Onstage What Pryor Did

When we spoke with comedian David Brenner, the first thing he asked was, "Did you ever see Pryor in person?"

Told that we'd never had the chance, he groaned as if mortally wounded. "Oh, my God! You missed it, then. There was no one — no one — who could do onstage what Richie Pryor did."

Standing alone on a bare stage, Richard Pryor knew as much about human fear and frailty as reckless desire ; could see into the dark recesses of the heart as clearly and cunningly as Shakespeare or Cervantes. Up there in the spotlight he was, in the words of Henry James, "one of those on whom nothing is lost."

Say what you will about Richard Pryor's failings as a father, husband, costar, or business partner (offstage, he couldn't balance a checkbook), he lived his life immersed in the moment. Had he cared one whit about his legacy or posterity, we would still be buying up box sets of lost nightclub performances and concert films, just as we do Miles Davis's Complete Sessions and Bob Dylan's Bootleg packages. It maddens us to imagine all the ...


Citizen Pryor

"So, are you all through writing about Richard now?"

The question was put to us by Jess Van Nostrand at The Project Room in Seattle during the first week of our book tour. We'd explained to her that Furious Cool rose from the ashes of a screenplay we had begun writing in 2001 at the behest of Richard Pryor and his fifth and seventh wife Jennifer.

Are we finished with Richard Pryor? We are not. Like an insect bite, the more we scratch it, the worse it gets.

And like the newsreel producer Thompson (we never know his first name, barely see his face) in Citizen Kane who, having turned in what he believes is a finished product, we are compelled to set forth afresh in search of a closely guarded bit of ephemera that — who knows? — might well make sense of the whole puzzle.

Richard Pryor's Rosebud is the 1969 movie he and his new bride Shelley Bonus financed with the $30,000 cash given them by her parents as a wedding gift. Variously titled Bon Appétit or The Trial, the film is now known — to the extent ...


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