I rather think that archives exist to keep things safe - but not secret.
Harper Lee's novel 'To Kill a Mockingbird' became iconic almost immediately after appearing in 1960: best-seller status; the Pulitzer Prize the next year; a classic movie soon after, with Gregory Peck in an Academy Award-winning role.
For 'The Grey Album,' I'd been thinking about the good side of lying - lying as a kind of improvisatory act in black culture. Afterward, it nagged at me because there are those other kinds of lies that I think are all around us, and I was fascinated about hoaxes in general. So 'Bunk' became a natural extension of 'The Grey Album.'
The willed recovery of what's been lost - often forcibly, I suppose - is what keeps me going. It is this reason I found myself a poet and a collector and now a curator: to save what we didn't even know needed saving.
I think I go with the Duke Ellington view on music. He said, 'There's two kinds of music - there's good music, and then there's the other kind.'
One of the most troubling things about the term 'fake news' is that it has become a force field against accusations you don't like.
Race is the true protagonist of the American novel. Our most popular classic fictions have known this, from 'Moby Dick' to 'Beloved;' all these books take on race or talk it out, often in other forms; they are less 'horror stories for boys' than ghost stories from a haunted conscience.
While claiming advocacy, what hoaxers really exhibit is self-interest. Often, this is because there is only the self to support their false claims; any revelations merely provide further opportunities for details and forgery.
For the black author, and even the ex-slave narrator, creativity has often lain with the lie - forging an identity, 'making' one, but 'lying' about one, too.
I think the Internet is a free press, you know?
In African-American culture, there's often a family historian, someone who does the genealogy or keeps the family Bible. I became aware that might be one role the poet has.
The hoax is the very absence of truth, which usually means art is absent, too - hoaxes regularly substitute claims of reality for imagination, facts for form, acting as if artifice is the antithesis of art.
Great music - say jazz - has that inventive, improvisational quality that tells us something about life.
We had moved cross-country from upstate New York to Kansas in the heat wave of 1980, with two cars, no air-conditioning, and a black dog. I can still see the infernal temperature of a hundred and nineteen degrees on a bank sign somewhere near Ohio.
I write about what hoaxers do, but I also want us to think about what believers do. Why do we want to believe a story like James Frey's 'A Million Little Pieces?' Why did we want to believe that Lance Armstrong really did all these things that, looking back, seemed impossible?
Blackface remains exoticist and offensive as a practice, not just because of its long tradition of being used to mock black selfhood, sexuality, and speech but because of its assertion that black people are merely white people sullied by dark skin.
Rereading 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' I was struck by what I had forgotten of the book: in a manner of pages, we encounter shame, history, ruin, conflicting stories, and wounds badly healed; in short, the South.
I'm not a historian. I know historians. I've worked with them. They have a really powerful way of looking at the world, and I think so do poets.
Writers need their totems, their altars. Mine, I feel, share the same randomness and utility of those belonging to painters I know, who are relentlessly visual and even poetic.
Can you explore real issues as a fake character? Yes - it's called acting. Or fiction. But acting is not a method of engaging with the actual world, just as pretending to know what a character might eat does not a novel make - much less make that make-believe real.