Dr. Angelou is arguably one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. "Writing has meant so much to me because reading has given me life," she says. "Being able to read has meant the world to me. That I'm a writer is almost a way of me passing it on, giving some back." Dr. Angelou talks with some of today's notable writers, including Walter Mosley and her son Guy Johnson, to hear about their journeys as writers.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Walter was surrounded by books as a child, but he didn't think he'd ever be a writer. "I always knew that reading was important, and I did read," he says, "But I had no intention of being a writer until I was in my early 30s." Walter is well known for his mysteries— first published book was Devil in a Blue Dress—and he has always written about the black man's migration from the Deep South to California. "No matter what the genre was, that's what I was writing about," Walter says. His latest work is a compilation of short stories called The Tempest Tales, which he says is a modernized version of Langston Hughes's The Simple Stories. Walter says short stories are more difficult to write than novels. "Every word counts, almost as much as in poetry," he says.
Guy, a poet, novelist and son of Dr. Angelou, says anyone who can capture the moment and bring it to you as if you were there is what he calls a great writer. "A poem will get me up in the middle of the night, and will bother me until I complete it," Guy says of his writing process. "A novel is more like a marathon, and it's how to keep the attitude right so that you can finish it." It can take Guy up to five months to finish a poem, while a novel generally takes about one year. "I think it's a difficult task to focus your imagination and control it," Guy says. "Sometimes the muse will give you information that has nothing to do with your story and lure you in with precious scents of flowers that have no place but are so alluring that you have to let go. It's all about 'Is the story important?' or 'Is where this character's going important?'"