For long stretches of my childhood in Nigeria, I never had any trouble deciding what to do each day. I started reading when I woke up in the morning and—with breaks for eating or climbing trees—I read until I went to sleep at night. I read children’s books and comics and as I grew older, magazines—Time, Readers Digest, and other slices of American life that accumulated on the coffee tables of fellow missionary families. Once we settled in Ibadan, a bustling metropolis, I scanned the shelves of the United States Information Service library and brought home Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, which I read under the covers at night with the proverbial flashlight, Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, and other books not deemed unAmerican in these days when congressional communist-hunters were purging USIS libraries.
My life as a reader evolved, as time went on, into my life as a writer. I started out writing for newspapers, then – after a detour through a doctoral program in literature – turned to magazines, chiefly political, and edited at the Progressive and Mother Jones. Washed up by an unexpected wave on the shore of a research university (Indiana), I turned to writing about other writers and editors.
My first book led me through archives in several states and conversations with the creative people who had made Esquire what it was in the Sixties, one of America’s best magazines ever. In It Wasn’t Pretty Folks, But Didn’t We Have Fun?, I tracked their passage through the demonstrations, assassinations, riots, and battles of that fiery decade.
James Baldwin’s work for Esquire led me to my next book: Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement—a story of how novelists, historians, and others devoted to the life of the mind responded to the movement in the ten years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. That book led to my service on the advisory board of the Library of America’s anthology, Reporting Civil Rights—and to my newest book. Writing about the exodus of W. E. B. Du Bois and others to Ghana at the height of the civil rights movement drew my thoughts back to that country, where I had spent a year of my early childhood just as Kwame Nkrumah was launching his campaign for independence. Nkrumah was part of a pan-Africanist community that had formed in London to unseat the British hold on Africa, and the story of that community had barely been told. I read my way through periodicals, books, and correspondence in libraries on three continents to bring their world to life in Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause.
Much as I’ve enjoyed writing history, I’ve missed the immediacy of journalism. Retired from teaching, I’ve had time to interview writers whose work I find especially interesting. Some are friends; others I have sought out. On visits to Costa Rica to learn Spanish, I interviewed a couple of fine Costa Rican writers, and just those interviews and one article on Costa Rican publishing have drawn Costa Rican readers in surprising numbers to the website. Book readers in Costa Rican life may not be as visible as they are in the United States (as I concluded in “Publishing in Costa Rica”), but they’re clearly there—and interested in the writing lives of Costa Rican writers.
Readers elsewhere across the world also find their way to the website, as I can see in the dandy tables of numbers supplied by wordpress.com, the free service that provides the template for this site. Some readers even step forward and use the contact box to write the writers I interview—renewing old friendships or making new connections. Welcome, then, readers, to my little crossroads of the writing world. – Carol Polsgrove, September 2012