Every mind is a clutter of memories, images, inventions and age-old repetitions. It can be a ghetto, too, if a ghetto is a sealed-off, confined place. Or a sanctuary, where one is free to dream and think whatever one wants. For most of us it's both - and a lot more complicated.
Even criticism is more interesting when the writer's authority does not only come through this omniscient narrator, but through questions, ambivalence, vulnerability. A mind questioning and on the move, not just settling down and declaring - that's one of the most interesting possibilities.
Fashion for my mother was about asserting and demonstrating you had aesthetics, tastes, sensibility, manners, beauty - qualities that black people were always trying to prove they possessed, because it was often assumed that we didn't.
Many say that no real avant-garde - which I'll define as a combative group of free-thinking artists - can exist anymore. The media's reach is too vast. New artists and movements get snatched up too quickly.
I think all literature should be read as comparative literature. And I think we should write out of what we know, but in the expectation that we can be changed at any moment by something we have yet to discover.
Since pre-Emancipation, black 'females' have had to fight for the whites-only privilege of being deemed 'ladies': cultured, educated, sexually desirable in a socially respected way. Michelle Obama has managed to get all this without yielding her right to be smart and strong-willed.
In many ways, everything about my upbringing decreed that I wouldn't write a memoir because in the world where I grew up, in Chicago in the Fifties and Sixties, one key way of protesting ourselves - 'we' meaning black people - against racism, against its stereotypes and its insults, was to curate and narrate very carefully the story of the people.
In general, fashion is decorative, it's protective, it acknowledges that the world does involve conflict, and you might be attacked by assumptions, presumptions, and attitudes.
Clever of me to become a critic. We critics scrutinize and show off to a higher end. For a greater good. Our manners, our tastes, our declarations are welcomed. Superior for life. Except when we're not. Except when we're dismissed or denounced as envious or petty, as derivatives and dependents by nature. Second class for life.
As the years pass, I find that writers who were once central to me aren't anymore. I revered Yeats's poetry in college. I respect it now and am still ravished by certain lines, but I don't go back to him again and again. I do go back to Emily Dickinson again and again.
I was nearing the end of childhood when I started to pay real attention to jazz singers. Women excelled as jazz singers; they surpassed most of the men. Black women excelled as jazz singers; they surpassed most of the whites.
Sometimes it feels as if the artist hasn't done the real work of engaging with the material. Film noir can't just play off looks and attitudes. A thriller needs a dose of genuine suspense. It does not have to be literal, but it does have to feel genuine. Otherwise the artist is just leeching off the form.
I first wrote about Michael Jackson in the 1980s. His skin was growing paler, his features thinner, and his aura more feminine. Some called him a traitor to his race. Some fussed about his gender fluidity. I saw him as a post-modern shape-shifter. But the shifts grew more extreme and mysterious.
Noir is a court of human relations, and some crimes are beyond legal restitution.
My mind is stuffed with quotes. Lines, couplets, paragraphs, stanzas; Bessie Smith, Stevie Smith, Tin Pan Alley, rock and roll. They tease or lead or hurl me into a dream space of jostling languages that I need to bask in each day in order to write.
Once avant-garde artists receive official recognition, they start a double life. In one, they inspire younger artists to do more. In the other, they inspire a mass of imitators who make the work respectable and exclusionary. The artists and their art become intellectual brand names.
New Yorkers know how to borrow wildly. You know, Louis Armstrong was not a New York musician. He went from New Orleans to Chicago to New York, and when he arrived here, he taught those New Yorkers. New York needs that infusion.
'Melancholy' is prettier than 'depression'; it connotes a kind of nocturnal grace. Makes one feel more innocently beleaguered.
Michael Jackson loved epic symbols. In his shows and his videos, he always destroyed or salvaged worlds; he was the hero of parables about street violence, sexual combat, war and natural disaster. It was always apocalypse or apotheosis now.
At the very least, noir offers an alternate reality - moments of real passion, a bleak code of honor, and a need for freedom amid corruption. At its best, noir offers a map of subversion.