Paule Marshall's most recent novel, Praisesong for the Widow, will appear in 1982. Her prize-winning first novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones, originally published in 1959, has just been reissued, with an afterword by Mary Helen Washington, by The Feminist Press. This essay is adapted from "Shaping the World of My Art," which appeared in New Letters 40, no. 1 (Autumn 1973): 97-112, and is reprinted by permission. The transcription of the women's talk is from p.70 of The Feminist Press edition of Brown Girl, Brownstones (available from The Feminist Press, Box 334, Old Westbury, NY 11568, for $6.95, plus handling).
To talk about early influences it will be necessary to take a giant step back to that stage in life when, without being conscious of it, I began the never-ending apprenticeship which is writing. It began in of all places the ground-floor kitchen of a brownstone house in Brooklyn. Let me try to recreate the setting for you. Picture if you will a large oldfashioned kitchen with a second-hand refrigerator, the kind they used to have back then in the thirties with the motor on top, a coal stove that in its blackness, girth, and the heat it threw off during the winter overwhelmed the gas range next to it, a sink whose pipes never ceased their rusty cough, and a large table covered in flowered oilcloth set like an altar in the middle of the room.