Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

The Value and Threat of Small Towns

BOND: But of course, couldn't you also argue that Cincinnati and Knoxville created you? New York may have given you a chance to flourish, but Cincinnati and Knoxville created you just like Knoxville created Thomas Wolfe? I mean if he hadn't --


BOND: -- grown up there and lived in his mother's boarding house, he wouldn't --

GIOVANNI: Asheville.

BOND: -- have had the chance to go to -- Asheville, I'm sorry --

GIOVANNI: That's okay.

BOND: -- wouldn't have had the chance to go to New York and become Thomas Wolfe?

GIOVANNI: Oh yeah. No, no question, but you have to know, Ernest -- whom I love so much, Ernest Gaines -- who is, I think -- he's not a funny man like "ha ha," but he has these really wry sort of things that he does, and he came to Tech for us recently, he's so wonderful. And we were talking about -- he was talking to the students. And they were asking him about you know Louisiana. And he calls it "that postage stamp where I grew up," and I had never thought, because of all of his great stories, Jane Pittman and all this, coming from right out there.

And he said, "You know I'm lucky," and again I'm sure we could use another term because clearly Ernest Gaines is probably the best writer in the English language who never won the Nobel though he should. But he said, "You know, I'm lucky," he said, "because I left just in time." He said, "If I -- " he said, "I left when I was about ten. If I had stayed longer I would have gotten depressed and I would have realized the hopelessness of the situation. If I had left earlier, I would have been too young to remember." He said, "But I left at the right time and so now I get to mine this postage stamp upon which I grew up."

BOND: And when you're writing today, are you mining these postage stamps?

GIOVANNI: No, not in the same way that Ernest is.

BOND: Cincinnati, Knoxville and -- how differently?

GIOVANNI: Very different because I'm mining the spirit of it, I'm -- the body -- and it's good to have a body, I'm going to recommend the body, they're lovely things that the body does -- but it's the spirit of mankind, of human beings, that's important. And small towns teach us about the spirit, about how we respond emotionally to things. And you take that to New York, you take that with you.