You don't go to the library and walk along and pick out a topic. You are riding the bus, or shopping at Safeway, and all of a sudden the idea comes to you.
I have said with as much sincerity as I can muster that if I were thrown into a dungeon with a sentence of one hundred years, with my only company being an illiterate guard who came twice a day with meals but who never spoke, I would still write - on coarse toilet paper in the dark if I could spare it.
When you grow up with a mother who has to wash dishes and clean hotel rooms, you know the importance of having a job, and you can't be without a job for any length of time, or you will be without anything.
At first I read mostly books by Southern authors - black and white - because almost all the people I knew were born and raised in the South, starting with my mother. I remember I got a lot of Erskine Caldwell.
In the summer of 1964, my sister and I went to South Ballston, Virginia, to stay with my aunt and her kids. They passed the civil rights bill that summer; my cousins were so happy because now they could swim in the pool.
Perhaps if I knew I would be stranded on an island with but one book, I would choose the Bible. For no religious reason whatsoever, but because of the varieties of stories, which might be useful as the days pass.
It just so happens that I was born and raised in Washington. Had I been born in Chicago or San Antonio, the streets and places would have figured into whatever I wrote. Just so happens that it's Washington, D.C.
Something happened during the 1980s - perhaps the political climate of that time - that caused me to ask how a people would become part of a system that oppresses their own people.
There are those who write because they believe they have something so marvelous that it will make them famous and wealthy, a lauded commodity who will be invited to a lifetime of cocktail parties.
I never like to put myself in the stories; in 'Lost in the City,' there are fourteen stories, and there's only one, 'The First Day,' about a little girl going to school, that has anything to do with me.
I've never been comfortable with the idea of using family and friends in stories. Which is why it takes me longer than something else. Because you make them up out of nothing. Doing that is harder.
'Jane Eyre,' when I think of that book, it conjures up the best moments of college English courses. Literature is extraordinary, especially when you have a good professor.
My father was Catholic, and my mother wanted me to go to Catholic school. That's what I did in first grade. But she couldn't afford the payments. I think it must have hurt her a lot, not to be able to give me a Catholic education.
My mother worked in the white world, but I lived almost exclusively in a black world. I don't think I had ever seen a white teacher until I got to high school.
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.