When asked to discuss his consistent use of a dark city as the setting for his stories, Richard Price, who spoke to about 20 students at a Pierson College Master’s Tea Thursday, pointed to his head and his heart.
“There’s got to be a connection between here, here and the writing hand,” Price said. “Otherwise, it won’t work.”
Price discussed his story and his coming of age as a writer and gave advice to up-and-coming writers. He also provided samples from his sixth novel, “Samaritan,” which was published earlier this year.
Price was born in the Bronx in 1949. People often assume his dark, gritty, “real” writing style is a byproduct of growing up on the “mean streets,” an assertion that the 54-year-old writer vehemently denies.
“I didn’t grow up in the slums,” Price said. “It was racially mixed, very safe and drugs weren’t a problem.”
Price said masters of fine arts programs are pointless for aspiring writers. He said the only thing he learned from his writing professors was “never [to] ask the opinion of someone you’re sleeping with.”
“They’ll either tell you it’s better than it is or its worse than it is,” Price said.
Price wrote his first book, “The Wanderers,” in 1974. The novel is a collection of short stories about teenagers growing up in the Bronx during the 1960s. The novel established Price’s “real” style and penchant for exposing the darker side of American cities. This style is similar to that of Price’s other five novels: “Blood Brothers,” “Ladies’ Man,” “Clockers,” “Freedomland” and “Samaritan.”
Price has also written many screenplays, including “The Color of Money” and “Clockers,” both of which were nominated for Academy Awards. He is currently writing a remake of an Akira Kurosawa film, and he is slated to write two episodes of the HBO series “The Wire.”
Despite his success in writing screenplays, Price said writing screenplays is far less artistic than writing novels. He said he only wrote screenplays to take breaks from novels and to make money.
“To paraphrase Robert Graves, screenplays are like the showdogs that I raise to feed my kittens — my novels,” Price said. “I hate to sound precious, but hey, I did rewrite ‘Shaft.’ I’m not proud.”
Price also spoke about how to become a good writer. He said life experiences and motives — not schooling — make a good author.
“The way to become a better writer is by getting older [and] living,” Price said. “When did you learn that and that? By living for x number of years.”
On the topic of motive, Price said, “An important question for a starting writer [is], ‘Why are you writing this?’ Nine times out of 10 people are writing about the wrong thing.”
Some students said they were very impressed with Price’s talk.
“It was really good,” Brittney Hunt ’07 said. “It was interesting to see exactly what writers do and to ask him questions on specifically what I was interested in.”
Cristina Aldrete ’05 said the talk was especially relevant to her because she is interested in screenwriting.
“I thought it was really interesting to get a different perspective from someone whose calling is writing fiction,” she said.
Price graduated from the Cornell Industrial Labor Relations School in 1971, after which he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Columbia. In 1980, Price taught two terms of a Pierson College creative writing seminar.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”19025″ ]