W.E.B. Du Bois: An Interview With An American Genius

Since I couldn’t make the How I Write Series because of my work schedule, I was allowed to research an interview of a writer of my choice. Therefore, I decided to find an interview of the leading scholar  that two of  my courses is centered around–W.E.B. Du Bois.

In 1961, Du Bois gave an interview with the Alexander Street Press about his interest in The Crisis, a magazine that was founded by The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and edited by Du Bois.  In that interview Du Bois tells how and why he chooses to write. He explains that The Crisis is used as propaganda, as it what he chooses to write and for what purpose is intentional.  As an editor of The Crisis, he began his interview by telling the interviewer that the service that The Crisis provides to its readership is to “…discuss the Negro problem and tell White people and colored people what the NAACP does and what it’s supposed to do.”  At the end of his interview he makes it clear that his intention as a writer is to “…make people know what the Negro problem is and what they need to do to resolve it.”

While his technique wasn’t divulged in this particular interview it is made clear when reading his scholarly works, specifically  The Philadelphia Negro or Manning Marable’s, Biography of  W.E.B.Du Bois. According to Marable, Du Bois writes in the interest of the Negro  [African American],  by choosing to use his scholarship and  editorials to give attention to Black life. Marable explains that Du Bois not only shows this in his explanation— allowing the experience of Negroes in America to live on the consciousness of American identity–but in his form and technique as a writer.  Du Bois’  material comes from living in the same corridors of the people’s stories he’s tells. The Philadelphia Negro for instance is a product of years of research Du Bois did by being an ethnographer, living amongst his  human subjects to understand their organization, thoughts and positioning in the American experience.

Du Bois doing so is proof that the work that I want to do as a writer is relevant and important. What Du Bois did was explain what feminism was before it was vogue to do so, and gave ambition to his writing as an American historian. He was insightful. W.E.B. Du Bois provided a much needed analysis of American socialization. Not only did he critically examine and analyze how the politics of identity intersect with the social decorum of American traditions, but his interpretations are so classical that it continues to be relevant today.

If my writing lives with half the purpose  as Du Bois’, I would be grateful.

Brittany Smith

University of Michigan (first year) senior, Detroit native.

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