Writers on Writing: The Art of the Short Story

By Maurice A. Lee | Go to book overview

Preface

Short stories have always been more than fiction to me. When I was a freshman student at Oklahoma A&M University (now Oklahoma State University) in Stillwater, Oklahoma, I encountered a form of racism with which I was unfamiliar and which I did not expect. Growing up in the town of Muskogee, Oklahoma, with its segregated school system, prejudice and racism were things that happened in the streets, or among ignorant folks, and the respect for education was so prevalent in Muskogee that anyone striving for it received a certain amount of respect. Families that kept their children in school and later sent their children on to college were admired, regardless of race or income. So when I hit the campus and found racism and prejudice among students, I was in shock.

It was not unusual to be walking to class and hear the word nigger being yelled out. Of course, you could never tell who said it, because when you looked in the direction of the voice, no one was looking. Occasionally, someone would be staring at you, but you had no way of knowing if this person had yelled or if he was simply daring you to say something. Or you could be walking and two or three girls behind you would be speaking of your body parts, in particular what you had between your legs, and they would be saying, “Now, I bet he has a big one, and black—look how black he is.” Or they might say, “Hey boy, do you like white pussy?” And when you looked around, they all would be giggling; once in a while, one would have a very red face.

I did not know how to respond to such ugliness and meanness. By the time you got to class, you were so angry and embarrassed that you just sat there, holding back the tears, trying to listen to the lecture. You could eventually

-xiii-

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