Categories Quotes

Most people don’t grow up

Maya Angelou gave a significant interview for the The Paris Review No. 116 Fall 1990, it was titled The Art of Fiction. An extract of the interview is represented below.

Most people don’t grow up. It’s too damn difficult. What happens is most people get older. That’s the truth of it. They honor their credit cards, they find parking spaces, they marry, they have the nerve to have children, but they don’t grow up. Not really. They get older. But to grow up costs the earth, the earth. It means you take responsibility for the time you take up, for the space you occupy. It’s serious business. And you find out what it costs us to love and to lose, to dare and to fail. And maybe even more, to succeed. What it costs, in truth.

— Maya Angelou

INTERVIEWER

I would guess this would make it very easy for you to move from autobiography into novel, where you can do anything you want with your characters.

ANGELOU

Yes, but for me, fiction is not the sweetest form. I really am trying to do something with autobiography now. It has caught me. I’m using the first-person singular and trying to make that the first-person plural, so that anybody can read the work and say, Hmm, that’s the truth, yes, uh-huh, and live in the work. It’s a large, ambitious dream. But I love the form.

INTERVIEWER

Aren’t the extraordinary events of your life very hard for the rest of us to identify with? 

ANGELOU

Oh my God, I’ve lived a very simple life! You can say, Oh yes, at thirteen this happened to me and at fourteen . . . But those are facts. But the facts can obscure the truth, what it really felt like. Every human being has paid the earth to grow up. Most people don’t grow up. It’s too damn difficult. What happens is most people get older. That’s the truth of it. They honor their credit cards, they find parking spaces, they marry, they have the nerve to have children, but they don’t grow up. Not really. They get older. But to grow up costs the earth, the earth. It means you take responsibility for the time you take up, for the space you occupy. It’s serious business. And you find out what it costs us to love and to lose, to dare and to fail. And maybe even more, to succeed. What it costs, in truth. Not superficial costs—anybody can have that—I mean in truth. That’s what I write. What it really is like. I’m just telling a very simple story. 

INTERVIEWER

Aren’t you tempted to lie? Novelists lie, don’t they? 

ANGELOU

I don’t know about lying for novelists. I look at some of the great novelists, and I think the reason they are great is that they’re telling the truth. The fact is they’re using made-up names, made-up people, made-up places, and made-up times, but they’re telling the truth about the human being—what we are capable of, what makes us lose, laugh, weep, fall down, and gnash our teeth and wring our hands and kill each other and love each other.

INTERVIEWER

James Baldwin, along with a lot of writers in this series, said that “when you’re writing you’re trying to find out something you didn’t know.” When you write do you search for something that you didn’t know about yourself or about us? 

ANGELOU

Yes. When I’m writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that. But I’m also trying for the language. I’m trying to see how it can really sound. I really love language. I love it for what it does for us, how it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and the delicacies of our existence. And then it allows us to laugh, allows us to show wit. Real wit is shown in language. We need language.

Read the interview in full: The Art of Fiction No. 119 with Maya Angelou


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