Monday, 12 October 2009

Bonnie Greer talks at Peckham Library


Bonnie Greer gave a talk at Peckham Library this evening. I hope someone recorded it; she had many insightful things to say about writing - the difference between writing and publishing, and how a writer doesn't have to think about 'being a writer', but does have to consider publishing, and attack the mainstream publishing houses and incestuous critics by setting up small presses and literary journals. As the talk was arranged as part of Black History Month, she obviously talked extensively about race (read this article) and growing up in Chicago and moving to London in the 1980's. She was extrememly generous in the way she described her writing process, and talked about the "deamon" that good writers always live with, that usually brings them to their "night" work (Oscar Wilde writing Dorian Gray, for instance, against the "day" work of his lighter output). She said you can get confused with style, and think that this is the thing you have to perfect to be an original writer, but one should just steal it to get going, but always allow the deamon through. She also spoke about the way we are over-saturated by consciousness and how things should be, claiming that most books - she did not think anything of this year's Booker list - still follow a 19th Century sense of prose, and warned of reading only the best things, and not overencumbering yourself with the pressure to read everything, destroying your own voice. She spoke of finding the momentary flash of irrational desire before you stop yourself doing something as a perfect place to explore human beings. Against this she also called for British writers not to emulate American ones too keenly, but to grow stronger. She put all the above much more eloquently than I am here, and with copious examples and anecdotes, but I want to make note of it as a trigger to remember. Aside from writing, she talked about politics (I believe she is up against the BNP this week on Question Time) and history, and made an interesting point that because the UK only finished, in 2007, repaying the USA our debt from WWII (a figure in the billions, which was not wavered because the US feared Atlee was forming a Communist system - the NHS being a point in case), that our 'special relationship' is as much tied up with this as anything else. She also told the story of her father, who'd been part of the D-Day landings; as a black soldier, he was not allowed to carry a weapon until he hit the water, at which point he was handed a gun and made to swallow a white tablet (an amphetamine), then charge towards what was almost certain death. He survived, but when they returned to Normandy 40 years later, she said how he had not wished to talk to other veterans (who were white) also revisiting the beaches, stating that they had "fought another war".

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