I just finished reading Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. First published in 1961, this ground-breaking non-fiction book, written in the form of a journal, tells the story of a white man (Griffin) who took medication to darken his skin so he could pass as African-American. He then traveled through the Deep South for several weeks, taking notes on how he was treated as an older African-American man in the United States. The result is a close look at racism and stereotypes and a fine example of what journal writing can be.
Do you keep a journal? If so, what is it about? If you wrote a journal about a specific topic for six weeks, what might that topic be?
8 thoughts on “What I’m reading: Black Like Me”
I’ve been journalling for many, many years, say over 30, and the content usually falls into the domain of what I’d like to say that I couldn’t, wouldn’t or can’t say to anyone else; and when traveling; and when being creative in my explorations of the written word.
My intention this year is to shift the focus onto creative thoughts, stories, sketches, recordings of what I’ve experienced that I might use in short fiction writing. I will still write to clarify my thoughts and emotions as that can also be useful in fiction someday.
I’m currently rereading Francine Prose’s, “How to read like a writer…” and my goal this year is to read every book on her “books to be read immediately” list. I’m well into it, reading Brodke’s short stories right now.
You say your writing may be “useful in fiction, someday”? As Grandmother Agnes Pilgrim says: ” Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, today is the gift.
Don’t deny yourself the deliciousness of making up stories right now–for your own sake. Yes, you’re always good enough to try something. Don’t have to wait. Who cares whether they turn out finished or wonderful or weak–they’re good practice. Take a scene, give it a right angle (unexpected turn), deal with what happens, take another turn, etc. Good practice again. You may get some laughs and change what you’re expecting. Works for me.
Everything is useful. I save my rilly rilly bad poetry for use by a character (in a story) who mistakenly thinks he is a good poet. Takes talent to try to write bad poetry off the cuff. As long as it’s already written….
Jump in. You don’t have to show the results to anyone unless you’re ready. Have fun with writing! Good luck!
Good point, Alek. You never know what journal entry or note will lead to something else.
Mike – Are any of your short stories posted online?
My first thought upon reading this blog was: Do people still find time to do journals? I keep pens and paper in several places to jot down ideas, things to remember, or comments and phrases. The next morning I put them in computer files. So when I’m, for instance, doing a class on a certain subject, I open that file and go over all the new ideas/insights I’ve gotten since last time. Keeps things fresh.
What would I journal on for six weeks? Well I have kept a monthlong list of rearranged pertinent words before I chose the 87th and perfect title for a book. What I do, as an old person, is ruminate. Used to have a friend, Bessie the cow. We’d sit together in the field, and as I leaned against her broad body and talked to her, I could hear her newly chewed cud go into a stomach, and a different cud come up for chewing on a while. And so on. That’s what I do with subjects. Think about them for a time, days or weeks maybe, then put them away. Next time I pull them out for consideration, they and I have a better look. When they’re ready, I write them down.
Maria – I’d love to hear more about Bessie the cow.
I do keep a journal off and on, but find it difficult at this busy stage of my life to be faithful to it. I’ve recently assigned myself the task of writing at least one poem a day. That tends to lead me into some journal writing as I root around for something “poetic” enough to post in my poetry journal! 🙂 Thanks for putting up this blog, I’m sure it’ll get a lot of readers.
Treebelly – Feel free to post one of your poems.