In Monday’s profile, Edward Porter wrote about Edward P. Jones’s life and literary career, identifying many of the author’s foremost preoccupations: race, life and death, and the way memory and recollection make time fluid. The quotes that follow reflect all this and more. They also reveal Jones’s refreshingly pragmatic take on writing and literary success.
“Slavery is the essential thing at the center of so many black lives, myself included. I may not always be aware of how deep it goes, but my mind, in concert with that creative gene, does.” —“10 Questions with Edward P. Jones,” at the Politics & Prose Bookstore blog
“They were the children of once-upon-a-time slaves, born into a kind of freedom, but they had traveled down through the wombs with what all their kind had been born with—the knowledge that God had promised next week to everyone but themselves.” —“In The Blink of God’s Eye,” All Aunt Hagar’s Children (2006)
“So on a not unpleasant day in March, she rose in the dark in the morning, even before the day had any sort of character, to give herself plenty of time to bathe, eat, lay out money for the bus, dress, listen to the spirituals on the radio. She was eighty-six years old, and had learned that life was all chaos and painful uncertainty and that the only way to get through it was to expect chaos even in the most innocent of moments. Offer a crust of bread to a sick bird and you often drew back a bloody finger.” —“Marie,” Lost in the City (1992)
“The people I grew up around, almost all of them had been born and raised in the South. And, you know, they didn’t always go to church, but they lived their lives as if God were watching everything they did.” —quoted in “The Known World of Edward P. Jones,” The Washington Post
“She went through her memory for the time, for the day, she and her husband told him all about what he should and should not do. No goin out into them woods without Papa or me knowin about it. No steppin foot out this house without them free papers, not even to go to the well or the privy. Say your prayers every night. . . .
Pick the blueberries close to the ground, son. Them the sweetest, I find. If a white man say the trees can talk, can dance, you just say yes right along, that you done seen em do it plenty of times. Don’t look them people in the eye. You see a white woman riding toward you, get way off the road and go stand behind a tree. The uglier the white woman, the farther you go and the broader the tree. But where, in all she taught her son, was it about thou shall own no one, havin been owned once your own self. Don’t go back to Egypt after God done took you outa there.” —The Known World (2003)
“The hitter can never be the judge. Only the receiver of the blow can tell you how hard it was, whether it would kill a man or make a baby just yawn.” —The Known World
“[T]here was a candy shop….She went in, thinking of the candy from childhood, the kind of sweets she had enjoyed for only a handful of pennies.… She did not think they made that stuff anymore, and that was a shame because she had good memories of those treats, and it would have been nice for her daughter to know a part of what had been her childhood. . . .
She pulled out one Mary Jane, marveled at the familiar black and red and light brown wrapping. She popped it into her mouth. There was at first nothing but an overwhelming sugariness, and even after a flavor of some kind seeped through the sugar, it did not last, and it was not as she remembered. She tried other kinds of candy, and it was the same, a bunch of something she could not remember ever knowing.” —“Resurrecting Methuselah,” All Aunt Hagar’s Children
“Her heart was breaking, but that was in the nature of hearts, she told herself. . . . It was also in their nature to heal for however long it took, six months, a year, two years.” —“Tapestry,” All Aunt Hagar’s Children
“My mother, because she could not read or write, no doubt suffered a thousand and one indignities every week. In the Pigeon story in Lost [“The Girl Who Raised Pigeons,” from Lost in the City], I named that tough little girl Betsy Ann, the name of a girl I knew in childhood. That first girl was not tough, was picked on and had a terrible stutter. The best that I could do for her, in my world, was name a no nonsense girl for her. Give her something she never had in real life. The fictional girl overcomes all the way until, at the end, she is ready to take on the world.” —“10 Questions with Edward P. Jones”
“I know people are going to jump on me for this; the Mona Lisa’s a nice painting but if the guy had never painted it, the world would still go on. Not that I’m da Vinci or anything, but having those kinds of feelings sort of frees you.” —from a 2011 interview at The Rumpus
“I took ten years or so thinking it up, and I only had 12 pages of hard copy. So when I first sat down to write, the first draft took 2 ½ months. That’s the physical part of writing, but the ten years thinking it through counts as writing as well.” —“Off the Page: Edward P. Jones” at The Washington Post
“I mean, I didn’t grow up thinking that I would be a writer — that’s not the kind of environment I came from. You grew up to get a solid job, so that you won’t have to pray about your rent and worry about food. And I didn’t know any people who were writers. But the reading was always important, and I suppose that there’s no better foundation in the universe, if you want to write, than loving to read.” —from a 2006 interview with Gordon Hurd of After the MFA
“One writes because you are compelled to, because you cannot help it, but also to be, somewhere down the line, to be read.” —“10 Questions with Edward P. Jones”
Click here to read Edward Porter’s feature piece on Edward P. Jones.
Author photo courtesy of Algonquin Books