Jamel Brinkley’s Witness: Stories is now available from FSG, so we asked him a few questions about his writing practice, his favorite books, and more.
What time of day do you write?
A day can get away from you with alarming speed and ease, so if possible I try to write in the mornings when I tend to have more energy and sharpness, and before the reality of my to-do list (cleaning, laundry, groceries, email, etc.) sets in.
What was the first book you fell in love with?
The first book I fell in love with as a high school student was Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I probably didn’t really understand it, but I kept reading it over and over, and I absolutely sensed that from the very beginning, in the prologue, it was a tremendous assertion of artistic freedom.
Which books do you reread?
Currently, I’m in the habit of rereading The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard and Angels by Denis Johnson. Transit has this tremendous scale and a startling capacity to shift between the intimate and the grand, as well as an intricate architecture. Angels doesn’t feel architectural in nearly the same way, but the strange impulses and movements of the book are really appealing. Both books offer incredible prose. Generally, the fiction I find myself rereading includes Morrison’s Sula, Edward P. Jones’s two short story collections, and Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.
What book has elicited the most intense emotional reaction from you?
One book that comes to mind is Corregidora by Gayl Jones. It’s so haunting and layered and rhythmic, and its ambiguities make it only more powerful.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you do instead?
Teaching, which I love, predates my serious writing life by years and years. I’ve taught middle school students, high school students, college students, and now graduate students. I’ve also been a tutor and an academic counselor. I can’t imagine I’d do anything but teach.
Jamel Brinkley’s Witness: Stories is available from FSG.