I wanted to quote a chunk of this poem on the dedication page of my novel. Many might recognize it from high school English class, it's the one that opens with the line "Life for me ain't been no crystal stair." After spending an hour reading about copyrights and permissions, I felt totally intimidated, and decided not to do it. But I will quote a few parts of the poem here, with a link. Because this poem captures the heart of my book. Especially these lines: "But all the time / I'se been a-climbin' on," and "So, boy, don't you turn back. / Don't you set down on the steps, / 'Cause you finds it's kinder hard."
Click here to read the whole poem.
Langston Hughes has always been a favorite poet of mine. The way he combines rhythm and rhyme with spareness and simplicity is just the kind of poetry I like. Some of his poems also capture a precise mood or feeling which resonates very deep with how I think inside, with how I feel and experience the world.
Some people have asked me why I would write a novel about an African American character when I am not African American. Who knows, Flora may have been partly inspired by this poem, which has meant a lot to me over the years. I can see in my mind a book of Hughes' poetry from the library which sat on our end table around the same time that the story began to form. All I can say is that this is how she came to me, in scene after scene. The novel (which will hopefully be available on Kindle this week!) is about suffering, but also about overcoming. Both are deeply human experiences, which have no race or culture. I think the things that are most important about us are the things we all have in common: All of us want to belong. All of us want to be loved. All of us want to be understood. And all of us need to be free. Cultural differences run deep, but these things run deeper still.