Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Author Interview - FACES IN THE MIRROR: OSCAR MICHEAUX AND SPIKE LEE by John Howard
Describe your book in five words or less.
It tells the story of African-American cinema.
How did the ideas for your books come to you?
I have had a long-standing interest in film in general and African-American cinema in particular. I won a National Humanities for the Arts grant a decade ago for a program dealing, in part, with African-American film, and have from time to time been allowed by the film program at my college to offer film courses even though my appointment is in a different department. Oscar Micheaux, working in the 1920's and 30's was the first black to make a career as a director. Spike Lee was the first black to achieve sustained success in Hollywood as a director. I felt that the story of black cinema could be told in an interesting way through the lives of these two men.
What is the hardest part of writing for you? What's the easiest?
Writing the book was easy. The hardest part of the process involved getting permission to use movie stills, posters and similar material.
What's next for you? Are you currently working on or have plans for future projects?
I am returning to a manuscript finished before FACES was written. It is called POOR JOSHUA: THE DESHANEY CASE AND CHILD ABUSE IN AMERICA. It is the story of a celebrated case that went to the Supreme Court, and that established the present(unfortunate) framework within which the law deals with child abuse.
Why did you choose to write for specific genre?
I have a long career as a writer. My early work was in sociology, my later work is in the area of law. I wrote a book on film because film has been a life-long interest and because I believed it would be fun to do so.
What's it like hearing that readers are eagerly awaiting your book's release date?
I have done a number of book reading/signings, including two at film festivals. These are always enjoyable events.
What is one question that you've always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?
What is my favorite film among all those discussed in the book? Probably, No Way Out. Not only did it break ground at the time of its release in 1950, but is also from a cinematographic perspective, an excellent piece of work.
What was your road to publications like?
I had some earlier dealings with Fireside and, therefore, sent them the FACES manuscript. They were picked it up to my great delight, and we are moving on from there.
Faces In The Mirror
John Howard is retired from the State University of New York as a Distinguished Service Professor. His last book was The Shifting Wind: The Supreme Court from Reconstruction to Brown. He has also been the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Focus Grant for a program on African American Art and Culture.
His interest in what goes on behind the camera as well as what is on the screen in mainstream movie making began when, as a boy accompanying his mother, Louise, who worked as a cleaning lady at the Metropolitan Theater in Boston, he came across trade journals and in-house publications that highlighted the practical, business side of the film endeavor. This informed his later understanding of the struggles of black directors to meet the brutally difficult demands of commercial movie making while attempting to hold true to distinctive artistic visions.
Howard resides in Mount Vernon, New York and enjoys baseball, movies, travel and most of all good times with friends. John Howard invites your comments about FACES.