‘In ‘Racism and Reaction’ I was at pains to explore the idea that post-war racism in Britain ‘begins with the profound forgetfulness’ about the conjoining of race and empire that has overtaken British life since the 1950s… The spatial organization of empire was an important factor in the process of forgetting. It was one thing to be deeply mired, as Britain was, in exchanging trinkets for captives in West Africa, shipping them across the Atlantic in the genocidal Middle Passage, selling their bodies into plantation slavery, exploiting their forced labour, consuming the commodities they produced and repatriating the profits of an activity they could safely conduct hundreds of miles away without compromising the nation’s self image as a ‘sceptered isle’ or a ‘green and pleasant land.’ It was quite another – an abrogation of a law of nature – to have the natives’ descendants next door, renting a room in your house, clipping your ticket on the bus and touching your body in hospital.’

– Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger

‘The whole experience was eerily familiar and disconcertingly strange at the same time. One can attribute this to the sense of déjà-vu which assails colonial travellers on first encountering face-to-face the imperial metropole, which they actually know only in its translated form through a colonial haze, but which has always functioned as their ‘constitutive outside’: constituting them, or us, by its absence, because it is what they – we – are not. This is a manner of being defined from the beyond.

On the boat train to London, I kept feeling I’d seen this place somewhere before, as in a screen memory. It provoked a deep psychic recognition, an illusory after-effect. Had I been here before? Yes and no.’

– Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger

‘The historical facts of colonialism and slavery come to be dominating, recurring issues: not simply as events which occurred in the distant past, but as histories which eat into the present and whose afterlives still organize our contemporary post-colonial world.’

– Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger

‘The beauty of the place was subtle. In the south-western deserts you needed to look twice at emptiness, you needed to take your time, the air like ether, where things grew only with difficulty. On the island of her childhood she could spit on the ground and a bush would leap up.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost

‘One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. At least in my case, the first paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be.’

– Gabriel García Márquez, The Art of Fiction No. 69, The Paris Review

‘I had an idea of what I always wanted to do, but there was something missing and I was not sure what it was until one day I discovered the right tone—the tone that I eventually used in One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was based on the way my grandmother used to tell her stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness… What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories, and everyone was surprised. In previous attempts to write One Hundred Years of Solitude, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face.’

– Gabriel García Márquez, The Art of Fiction No. 69, The Paris Review

‘Every historical pillar he came to in a field he stood beside and embraced as if it were a person he had known in the past. Most of his life he had found history in stones and carvings. In the last few years he had found the hidden histories, intentionally lost, that altered the perspective and knowledge of earlier times. It was how one hid or wrote the truth when it was necessary to lie.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost

‘But isn’t it a miracle that we’ve ended up as ourselves? I think writing takes you where you need to go and that my new writing is leading me. Writing about art is also a way of paying a debt to those great professors who thought I had talent. I love not letting them down. But the only real voice to listen to is the one that tells you where you should be going with your work. So that’s where I end up going.’

– Hilton Als, The Art of the Essay No. 3, The Paris Review

‘Beauty of form, at least in my experience, can become an obsession that hides more complex problems—the story doesn’t work, I can’t find the right way, I’ve lost faith in my knowledge of how to tell a story. Then there are times when nothing matters but getting the story down. That is the most joyful moment, when I know the narrative is underway, and all I have to do is make it flow better.

… I look back at what I’ve done. I get rid of redundancies, I fill in what seems barely sketched, and I explore paths that the text itself now suggests to me. Then, once I finish the story, I give it a really thorough going-over. There will be various drafts and corrections, reworkings, new inserts, until a few hours before the book goes to press. In that phase I become sensitive to every detail of daily life. I see an effect of light and make a note of it. I see a plant in a meadow and try not to forget it. I make lists of words, I write down phrases I hear on the street. I work a lot—on the proofs, too—and there is nothing that can’t, at the last moment, end up in the story, become an element in a landscape, the second term of a simile, a metaphor, a new dialogue, the ­unexpected and yet not outlandish adjective I was looking for.’

– Elena Ferrante, The Art of Fiction No. 228, The Paris Review

‘A plot twist can lose substance simply because I can’t keep it to myself and describe it to a friend. The oral story immediately destroys everything—however remarkable the development I had in mind, from that moment it doesn’t seem worth the trouble of writing down.’

– Elena Ferrante, The Art of Fiction No. 228, The Paris Review

‘The people that I tend to have speaking in my books have a momentary emergence, like someone getting out of the sea and standing on a rock for a minute and sort of looking around, and for whatever reason they can see where they are. They can see themselves and they can see what’s around them and say what it is. The times that one can do that in life—it’s probably not that many.’

– Rachel Cusk, The Art of Fiction No. 246, The Paris Review

‘Peggy, who had been living with her parents all along, decided not to do so anymore. She said that she was sick of them. She said it as if her parents were a style of dressing she had outgrown. I had never heard anyone speak of their parents in this way; I never even knew you could make them seem trivial, trinketlike, mere pests. I was not sure whether to admire her or feel sorry for her because she hadn’t got parents whose personalities were on a larger scale, parents whose presence you are reminded of with each breath you take.’

– Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy

‘One day I was a child and then I was not. Everyone told me this: You are no longer a child. I had started to menstruate, I grew breasts, tufts of hair appeared under my arms and between my legs. I grew taller all of a sudden, and it was hard to manage so much new height all at once. One day I was living silently in a personal hell, without anyone to tell what I felt, without even knowing that the feelings I had were possible to have; and then one day I was not living like that at all. I had begun to see the past like this: there is a line; you can draw it yourself, or sometimes it gets drawn for you; either way, there it is, your past, a collection of people you used to be and things you used to do. Your past is the person you no longer are, the situations you are no longer in.’

– Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy

‘That day I decided to go and buy a camera. Mariah had given me a book of photographs, because in the museum were some photographs I particularly liked. They were photographs of ordinary people in a countryside doing ordinary things, but for some reason that was not at all clear to me the people and the things they were doing looked extraordinary – as if these people and these things had not existed before.’

– Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy

‘I did not like Sundays, and this one was not an exception. I could not believe this feeling about Sundays had followed me halfway across the world. I could not explain it, this feeling. What exactly was Sunday meant to be? Always on that day I felt such despair I would have been happy to turn into something as useful as a dishrag. When I was at home, in my parents’ house, I used to make a list of all the things that I was quite sure would not follow me if only I could cross the vast ocean that lay before me; I used to think that just a change in venue would banish forever from my life the things I most despised. But that was not to be so. As each day unfolded before me, I could see the sameness in everything; I could see the present take shape – the shape of my past.’

– Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy

‘Mariah says, “I have Indian blood in me,” and underneath everything I could swear she says it as if she were announcing her possession of a trophy. How do you get to be the sort of victor who can claim to be the vanquished also?’

– Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy

‘What a surprise this was to me, that I longed to be back in the place that I came from, that I longed to sleep in a bed I had outgrown, that I longed to be with people whose smallest, most natural gestures would call up in me such a rage that I longed to see them all dead at my feet.’

– Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy

‘People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.’

– Iris Murdoch

‘Geometry attempts to recapture the orderly movement from an infinite formlessness to an endless interconnected array of forms, and in recreating this mysterious passage from One to Two, it renders it symbolically visible.

From both the metaphysical and natural points of view it is false to say that in order to arrive at two, you take two ones and put them together. One only need look at the way in which a living cell becomes two. For One by definition is singular, it is Unity, therefore all inclusive. There cannot be two Ones. Unity, as the perfect symbol for God, divides itself from within itself, thus creating Two: the ‘self’ and the ‘me’ of God, so to speak; the creator unity and the created multiplicity.’

– Robert Lawlor, Sacred Geometry

‘The implicit goal of this (classical) education was to enable the mind to become a channel through which the ‘earth’ (the level of manifested form) could receive the abstract, cosmic life of the heavens. The practice of geometry was an approach to the way in which the universe is ordered and sustained. Geometric diagrams can be contemplated as still moments revealing a continuous, timeless, universal action generally hidden from our sensory perception. Thus a seemingly common mathematical activity can become a discipline for intellectual and spiritual insight.’

– Robert Lawlor, Sacred Geometry

‘All our senses function in response to the geometrical differences inherent in the stimuli they receive. When we smell a rose we are not responding to the chemical substances of its perfume, but instead to the geometry of their molecular construction. Any chemical substance that is bonded together in the same geometry as that of a rose will smell as sweet.’

– Robert Lawlor, Sacred Geometry

“When you’re an artist you’re searching for freedom. You’ll never find it cos there ain’t any freedom, but at least you’ve searched for it. In fact, art could be called The Search.”

– Alice Neel

‘I remember how I finished the story “A Butterfly on F Street.” I was seeing a therapist at the time, in 1990 or ’91, because I was in a depressive mood. And I came back on the subway to Rosslyn, where I would take the bus to my apartment in Arlington. All of a sudden the final part of the story just came to me for some reason. I wasn’t even thinking about the story when I got on the subway, then all of a sudden I was thinking about it and it unfolded – just like that. Maybe that’s why I don’t really lash my back and worry about not working. I figure it it’s going to come to you, it’ll come to you. If I had pushed myself for some sort of proper ending, I don’t think I would have had the ending that’s there in the story now.’

– Edward P. Jones, The Art of Fiction No. 222, The Paris Review