I wanted to just get a job so I could have enough money for my own apartment and be able to get drunk. And I did. Back then, on $125, you could do that in Manhattan. I was 19 years old the first time I got published and paid. I think it was a hundred bucks. I stared at my name on the check for 20 minutes.
When you're young, your perception of what it means to be a writer is often less about the writing and more about what seems to be the accompanying life: speeches and travel and hanging out with other writers. You think that when you get published, your life will clarify itself to you somehow. But when you don't get published until you're middle-aged you know who you are already, and your life expands to make room for your writing, rather than orbiting around it. You realize that there's no one way to be a writer, and that the job is less of an identity and more of a vocation.
All the books that were being published by African-American guys were saying 'screw whitey', or some variation of that. Not the scholars but the pop books. And the other thing they said was, 'You have to confront the oppressor. ' I understand that. But you don't have to look at the world through his eyes. I'm not a stereotype; I'm not somebody else's version of who I am. And so when people said at that time black is beautiful – yeah? Of course. Who said it wasn't? So I was trying to say, in The Bluest Eye, wait a minute. Guys. There was a time when black wasn't beautiful. And you hurt.