Everybody remembers the first time they were taught that part of the human race was Other. That's a trauma. It's as though I told you that your left hand is not part of your body.
It seemed to me that the humiliation was key to what the experience was like.
The book was not about the instituion -- Slavery with a capital S. It was about these anonymous people called slaves. What they do to keep on, how they make a life, what they're willing to risk, however long it lasts, in order to relate to one another -- that was incredible to me.
I thought this has got to be the least read of all the books I'd written because it is about something that the characters don't want to remember, I don't want to remember, black people don't want to remember, white people don't want to remember. I mean, it's national amnesia.
I had this terribly reluctance about dwelling on that era. Then I realized I didn't know anything about it, really. And I was overwhelmed by how long it was. Suddenly the time --300 years-- began to drown me.
becoming an American is based on an attitude: an exclusion of me. It wasn't negetive to them -- it was unifying. When they got off the boat, the second word they learned was "nigger".
Still, like water, I remember where I was before I was "straightened out".
All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place.
First of all, I must trust my own recollections. I must also depend on the recollections of others. Thus memory weighs heavily in what i write, in how I begin and in what I find to be significant.
In shaping the experience [of slavery] to make it palatable to those who were in a position to alleviate it, they were silent about many things, and they "forgot" many other things. There was a careful selection of the instances that they would record and a careful rendering of those that they chose to describe.