Thursday, November 13, 2014

Artistic Obsessions: To Muse or Lose

IN HIS ESSAY COLLECTION, TRIGGERING TOWN, VICTOR HUGO wrote, "Most [poets] write the same poem over and over"--i.e., that most writers have a particular obsession, some well they keep dipping the bucket into over and over again. These obsessions make for the stuff of many a literary doctoral thesis, applying not only to the work of poets, but to short story writers and novelists, to visual artists and filmmakers.

In looking at my own work over 20 years, I see my obsession is race: what is it exactly, who defines it, who benefits from it, what are its consequences, how does it perform in American society, how does it perform in different areas of the world. As Sherman Alexie says in the attached quote, the writerly obsession can be a prison, especially as one seeks to grow as an artist. For myself, even when I sit down to not write about race, I feel its heat in the corner glowering, "I see you ignoring me."

So, my question to you, writers and other artists, What are your obsessions? And how do you break away from them? Or do you allow them to consume you, as say, an August Wilson with the city of Pittsburgh, a William Faulkner on Yoknapatawpha, or Toni Morrison on the subject of race?

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