Academic journal article African American Review

An Interview with Edward P. Jones

Academic journal article African American Review

An Interview with Edward P. Jones

Article excerpt

Edward P. Jones is the author of Lost in the City, a collection of fourteen short stories which was nominated for the National Book Award in 1992. In the fall of 1997, Jones answered my questions after meeting with a Howard University African American literature class that had recently finished reading his work.

Jackson: I want to ask you a little about your background. You're from Washington, D.C. How long have you lived in the city?

Jones: I was born in Washington, D.C. (I went away for the first time when I went to college.) I spent less than a year at a Catholic school, where I went to kindergarten and partly to first grade. After that my mother couldn't afford Catholic schools, so I went to public schools. I went to college in Massachusetts [Holy Cross] and then came back to Washington in 1972 and worked on and off. My mother was ill, and I stayed with her part of the time. When she died in 1975 I went to Philadelphia for five and a half months, and then from 1976 to 1979 I got a job and lived in Washington. I went to graduate school at the University of Virginia from 1979 to 1981, and I lived down there for a year after that. As a matter of fact I lived in James Alan McPherson's apartment. He was teaching at the University of Iowa, but he would come once a month to see his daughter. I had the place all to myself since he wasn't there. January or February of 1983 I came back up here and the job that I found was in Arlington, Virginia, and since I didn't have a car I thought it best that I be near the job. I've been here off and on since 1983.

Jackson: Did you work with McPherson?

Jones: I took two of his classes. He was on my thesis committee. I'd read his work when I was in college and I liked it. When I was thinking about graduate school in 1979, I found that he was at Virginia, and that was one of the primary reasons that I decided to go down there. I was a little reluctant at first to teach creative writing [Jones has taught at George Washington and Princeton], and he said, "It's all about, you know, just being subjective anyway." So I said, Why not?

Jackson: Which of his works from Hue and Cry or Elbow Room particularly motivated you?

Jones: "Cabbage and Kings," because I read that when I was in college, along with almost all the stories from Hue and Cry. I was reading the passages out loud because many them are very poetic. So going down to Virginia was really exciting for me. I met him before I'd gone down there. He had come up to Washington, I think in 1978, to read at the Library of Congress and at a George Washington University seminar. After the reading a small dinner was held for him by Susan Shreve. I expressed some interest in graduate school and he encouraged me to apply. So I ended up at Virginia.

Jackson: Was being admitted at all difficult? Had you started writing seriously at this point?

Jones: It was probably easier for me to get in because I didn't really care. Once I got down there, I was writing for the classes, but I was doing more writing on the side. That was in 1979. My first story had appeared in the November 1975 issue of Essence, but I hadn't published anything since then because I didn't really have the motivation to do any work. I had a nowhere job and I wasn't around people who were writing and whom I could bounce ideas off, so in a way it was nice that I could go to graduate school. But I still had a job, so graduate school wasn't the be-all-and-end-all. That's how I made up my mind about Virginia--it was close and everything. I was going with this woman--she was up here--and I really didn't want to go someplace that was too far from her. I think I took the graduate record exam after I got out of college, and I probably made lousy scores because I never did well on standardized tests. One of the other people in the creative writing department was John Casey whom I'd met in 1977 or 1978 at George Mason. He also encouraged me to apply to graduate school. …

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