This month at the RolfPotts.com Writers page, I interview Eddy L. Harris, who is the author of four critically acclaimed books — Mississippi Solo: A River Quest, Native Stranger: A Black American’s Journey into the Heart of Africa, South of Haunted Dreams: A Memoir, and Still Life in Harlem: A Memoir — all of which partake of memoir, travelogue, adventure tale, and cultural reportage. I spoke to Eddy in person at the 2006 Key West Literary Seminar, where he was a featured speaker.
Here are a few highlights from the interview:
- “Even now, looking back on [my] books, I don’t look on them as travel, but as an aspect of this interior dream that I’m having all the time. None of my books are a pure and simple account of how I went to this place and what I did there. They are as much interior as they are exterior. “
- “[My] break was Mississippi Solo. I sent it out to everybody I could think of, sometimes more than once. I got 55 rejection letters, and I put the book away. Later, I sent a publisher an idea for a book about fishing in Scotland. They didn’t like the idea, but they liked the way I wrote it, and told me to keep them in mind for other projects. So I went back to my desk, dusted off my Mississippi Solo manuscript, sent them the first 40 pages, took off for Guatemala. When I came back, there was a letter saying they liked the 40 pages — so I sent them the rest of the manuscript, took off for Mexico, and when I came back there was a series of letters saying, “Where are you? We want to publish this book.” So I got back to them, and that was the accidental break.”
- “The hardest challenge is getting published. Even at this stage of my career — five books published — it’s all about sales numbers, and my sales figures have not been great. Partly because I don’t write strictly travel, partly because there’s always a racial aspect to it, partly because what would seem to be my natural audience — black American readers — isn’t there for me. I write things in a way that seems to have turned them off early on. My book Native Stranger about Africa was not a romanticized, starry-eyed view of the Motherland; it was what I considered a clear-eyed, accurate picture of a place that I loved, but that I described in gritty fashion. I decried the poverty and I decried the corruption. I hung out the dirty laundry, I guess, and nobody wants you to do that.”
- “The reason this works for me is that I don’t want anything. I don’t want much stuff. So far it’s been easy to get up and leave and go someplace else because I don’t own anything that I have to haul behind me. Nothing that I’m physically or emotionally attached to. So my advice is to learn how to make do on as little money as possible, because sometimes there’s just not a lot of money coming. …If you really want to write, and write only, as opposed to writing while you’re waiting tables or writing while you’re teaching somewhere, just have to cut your expenses and cut your needs and wants.”
Full Eddy Harris interview online here.