10 Questions for Gerald Williams
- By Edward Clifford
"In 1960s Paris, racism to many new expatriates may have seemed nonexistent. Graffiti in several Left Bank metro stations, however, stubbornly indicated otherwise:
À BAS LES NÈGRES
MORT AUX ARABES
(Down with Negroes, Oust the Jews, Death to the Arabs)
Somebody was busy."
—from "Down with Negroes!...And Others," Summer 2018 (Vol. 59, Issue 2)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
When I was in the ninth grade at Roxbury’s James P. Timilty Junior High School, my English teacher, Ms.Figarty, thought so much of my story "A Cat-a-log" that she made me the editor of the school magazine. She told me I'd be a writer.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Pierre Michon, Juan Goytisolo, Chester Himes, Rahel Hutmacher, Buchi Emecheta, Herman Melville.
What other professions have you worked in?
Translator (Dutch, French, German) for Harry Abrams Books in New York City, street theater instructor in Amsterdam, and a substitute teacher in Manhattan.
What did you want to be when you were young?
At five, I wanted to be a fire engine.
What inspired you to write this piece?
I worked in Paris for five years as a typist and editor for the World Veterans Federation and a translator for Olympia Press. Through these jobs I met unforgettable people. This true event ["Down with Negroes!...And Others"] has always troubled my mind.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Paris, definitely, where you are alone and yet never alone; where you can be intensely subjective and clinically objective at the same time; where you can clearly hear yourself think.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Yes, if you can consider uninterrupted silence as a kind of music, and why not?
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Long-hand is a must. My brain is in my hand then. A French artist, Sandrine Richard, supplies me with notebooks she’s designed and I scribble away, trance-like. Keyboarding acts as a borderline tease… it tends to make my outpourings smart-alecky and seldom allows me to say what I really mean.
What are you working on currently?
Notebook stuff which is in varying stages of development, plus a memoir of my life in ’60s Paris.
What are you reading right now?
Madeline Albright's Fascism: A Warning
GERALD WILLIAMS is an editor, writer, and translator (French, Dutch, German) living in Manhattan. Essays, short stories, and poems have been published in the Massachusetts Review, Harvard Review, New Letters, Callaloo, Beacon Street Review, the California Quarterly Press, Bieler Press, Coffee House Press, and Michael Coughlin Publications. He was editor at the Olympia Press (Paris, New York, Amsterdam) and Dutch-English translator at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. He has translated four art books for Harry N. Abrams (NY). His chapbook, Blowing Up Hitler — a biographical poem on the first man to try to kill Hitler — is Google accessible. Out of print, copies are still on sale here in the US and in Germany via Amazon. His essay "The Astounding Power of Penmanship" is due out this winter.