Does a Writer need Economic Freedom?

William Faulkner

One book I certainly cannot overlook at anytime I travel is the Paris Review Interviews. I have read the first two volumes of this book and I seem not to have enough of them.

Over the weekend, I travelled to the eastern parts of Ghana and the second volume found its way into my luggage. I think I have not yet had enough of reading the interviews and I would keep rereading them until perhaps – thy kingdom come! They are in fact, a real source of inspiration as you get to read the minds of some of the most accomplished writers the world has ever produced. What I may be doing, from time to time, would be putting up some of the interviews and responses that strike me.

The following below is a question and response (The author in question is William Faulkner):

Interviewer: You mentioned economic freedom. Does the writer need it?

Faulkner: No. The writer doesn’t need economic freedom. All he needs is a pencil and some paper. I’ve never known anything good in writing to come from having accepted any free gift of money. The good writer never applies to a foundation. He’s too busy writing something. If he isn’t first rate he fools himself by saying he hasn’t got time or economic freedom. Good art can come out of thieves, bootleggers, or horse swipes. People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good one’s don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich. Success is feminine and like a woman; if you cringe before her, she will override you. So the way to treat her is to show her the back of your hand. Then maybe she will do the crawling.

What do you make of Faulkner’s response? I would be delighted to hear your thoughts.

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12 Responses to Does a Writer need Economic Freedom?

  1. amymckie says:

    Wow, I can’t help remark first on how misogynistic that is, saying you can’t cringe before a woman you should instead show her the back of your hand! Yuck *shudders* 🙂

    It is an interesting concept but I think he was also quite privileged so it was easy for him to say that. He attended university (though dropped out), he was able to purchase a home, etc. For a writer from the poorest classes I think money would be more of an issue and that money would be necessary for example to avoid having to work multiple jobs just to pay the bills. Thinking also of Woolf’s novella A Room of One’s Own where she discusses why women need some money to be able to write to avoid working in factories and spending the rest of their time taking care of a husband and children. So I think that Faulkner was mistaken in saying that money isn’t required simply because he was well enough off to be able to say that! (Not that he wasn’t hard up for money by times, but not in the same way that the truly poor would be.)

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  2. winstonsdad says:

    oh a bit dated sure at the time the femine nature of the comment seemed ok ,I disagree with him I think at the time he wrote it was still possible to write and be poor or from a different background ,but know I think you need to have done creative writing the publishing world seems more blinkered than ever to writers from a different class ,all the best stu

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  3. zibilee says:

    This was a really interesting question to ponder, and I would have to say it changed my views on the matter. Very cool post today!

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  4. SarahNorman says:

    Very interesting! Obviously he has as many issues as VS Naipaul about women, but other than that I think he makes a good point. Unless you are literally working 15 hours a day (as some people are) you can find time to write/knit/paint – whatever you would like to do . . . you just have to give up other things to do so! I think it is about priorities, and we dont always want to admit we put a high priority on say – new clothes, or rich food, or whatever.

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  5. It’s an interesting piece. One that I have had discussions over with. I believe one needs not to crawl before anyone… as for showing her the back of the hand I don’t believe in it but I would also not cringe before a woman. You see the world is like this: everyone wants power, irrespective of gender. Everyone wants to test the other to see if he/she truly can override them. If the individual succeeds and the other cringes or crawls or cower before him/her the one begin to wield an ultimate power over the other. I know of some seriously ‘wicked’ female lecturers. Your heart thunders anytime you step into their class and I also know of equally ‘wicked’ male lecturers who laugh at you when you are performing poorly. This is human nature.

    On the issue of economic freedom, I believe what he intends is this “Don’t let nothing hold you down from creativity, even if you have to do it in poverty.” We know of many whose work we enjoy today but who wrote in poverty. Issa, the Haiku poet from Japan was dead poor. And many others. Creativity defies everything. I read somewhere of a man who in the pastoral regions of early America would sleep at ten and wake up at one a.m. to read and write. He found time to write and to work for his family.

    Again, I don’t wholly agree with Woolf as quoted by Amy. You see, these days it is easy for others to quote their lifestyle and say ‘this is how it must be’. There are several married women with children who have written a lot of interesting and powerful books. One need not be free from all encumbrances before one can create. My problem do these individuals who make their lives a model for others to follow tell of the negatives? their fears? their problems? Guess not. When Alice Walker was leading the empowerment of women and making a name for herself, she left her daughter to go through the very same thing she was fighting against. Her daughter suffered emotionally. and today the two are at loggerheads. The issue isn’t about where you stand on the continuum. It is about how to balance it.

    Interesting post. I know i have veered off…

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  6. A writer definitely does not need economic freedom to write, and ‘creative writing’ with the sole aim of commercial gain I think definitely kills creativity and narrows one’s scope. However, although economic freedom is not a prerequisite for any writing, its achievement does create opportunity for enhancement of oneself as a writer. I say opportunity because that is all it is – ultimately it is up to the writer to take up the baton. Writing is a state of patience, where time and consistency help to improve one’s skill. With more time to write and less noise from the basic demands of daily existence, one may gain opportunity for better application.

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  7. Kinna says:

    I can’t get pas the misogynistic comments to answer the question.

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  8. Yeah Kinna, the misoginism is really bad isn’t it? I had to come back to this post twice before I decided to ignore it – was dumbfounded.

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  9. Kinna says:

    I’m back. The misogyny aside, his response is smug, classist and just plain wrong. The issue is not about success or getting rich. The real question is whether in the absence of economic freedom, a writer (or an artist ) can produce. Can have the piece of mind, can block out the pressures on his/her life to produce. Everyone needs economic freedom. Artists are no different. This notion that artists must create for the sake of art and sometimes under the most trying financial conditions is wrong, wrong and completely unacceptable. We don’t ask this of lawyers, doctors, engineers etc.

    Let me also point out that the interview was conducted in 1956. Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in 1949. By the time he made this unrealistic comments, he was a success and if he was not selling enough books, he also had the Nobel money.

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  10. Marie says:

    Lots of our novelists and writers don’t write full time; they teach, they work in libraries (two of my coworkers are published authors), they do lots of things. Sure it’s nice to be able to write full time but lots of people make do with what they can. Economic freedom sure does make life easier, though!

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  11. Adura Ojo says:

    Definitely mysogynistic, but I get the point he’s making about writing becoming the world of the writer and being consumed by it to the exclusion of everything else.

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  12. Torgbui Michael says:

    Lets not hype this misogynistic stuff that much. I think Faulkner to some extent is right (though not on the misogynistic thing), but his assertion that writers and for that matter good writers do not need economic freedom. They do not need economic freedom because a writer creates and any inducement that precedes his/her creativity only produces materials that are inducement-biased. I have seen a lot of these.

    Again, he needs economic freedom because for a writer’s creativity in art to be made known to all and appreciated for his/her work, there should be a vehicle and economic freedom is the fuel that drives that vehicle. Without economic freedom, a writer’s creativity and essence of his/her work will only be known to him/her, his/her family and friends. It cannot cross beyond these borders. And the work could easily qualify for a personal tale told in his or her matchbox.

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