Robert Fleming

Iforcolor archivist Dale Shields had the opportunity of interviewing
Robert Fleming.

Robert and Dale are both natives

of Cleveland, Ohio, and attended the city’s John F. Kennedy
High School. Years ago, they met again in New York City,
with Robert the writer and Dale the actor.

Robert: You’re doing great work! I  want to thank you for your blast on my books.  It is great to see what you have accomplished, all these years since high school.  I love what you’re doing!  Thank you for bringing these folks to the attention of the world. What an admirable quest!  I totally respect and honor you, Dale.  I am proud of your research and sharing of Black artistic history.  You were one of my fave brothers. Great hearing from you.

Dale: Proud of your work as well, Mr. Novelist.  I am honored to place you here, among artistic greatness and critical social thinkers.  My hope is that the youth from our neighborhood see the vast amount of literary work you have written as the result of hard work and your commitment to your education.  With our schools crippled with fiscal difficulties and arts programs slashed,  what is your advice to young writers of color, hoping to one day be published, about the importance of reading and writing?

Robert: My advice to a young black writer: Read, read, and read. Read everything and not just the writers in the black community. It’s important to read non-fiction, fiction, poetry, commentary, and journalism. Read the newspapers and magazines and keep up with the issues of the day. Read, write, and revise. Be open to everything. Experience life and be tolerant to every idea but be true to yourself.
Reading and writing?  Reading is crucial to any person who wants to write.  As a child, I used to read to my grandparents. We read books by Charles Dickens,  H. G. Wells, Richard Wright, Shakespeare, folk tales, and the Bible. At school, I acquired another taste in writers including Ernest Hemingway, Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, Thomas Wolfe, and John Steinbeck. I read to imagine and dream.
Dale: What writers inspired you?  Do you have a favorite author?

Robert: I don’t have one favorite writer. But among the Black writers, I have a glorious trio: James Baldwin, John A. Williams, and Richard Wright.  And the other ones from the western canon: John Steinbeck, Graham Greene, William Vollman, Jack Kerouac, Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Dale: Is there a quote that served as motivation towards your artistic work?

RobertMy great-grandmother Ida Hollingshead had this quote in one of her books: “Our elevation must be the result of self-efforts, and work of our own hands. No other human power can accomplish it. If we but determine it shall be so, it will be so.” It was by the great Black spokesman Martin Delany in 1852.

Dale:  What are your thoughts on our “new” voices?  Speak a little, please, of Rap artists vs the poets of the Harlem Renaissance and The Black Theatre movement of the 1960s?

Robert: Rap vs. the poets of the “Black Arts” generation: Back in the day, the old black poets of the 1960s and 1970s were influenced by jazz and blues. They loved the Black music and the culture but we’re very committed to political and cultural liberation. They wrote the angry song of protest and defiance. I was inspired by Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), Don L. Lee, Sonia Sanchez, Clarence Major, Ishmael Reed, Michael Harper, Robert Hayden, and the Last Poets. I also read the poets Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Sterling Brown, and Gwendolyn Brooks. There is some stunning rap music I admire, especially Common, Tupac, Biggie, Q-Tip, Mos Def, and Jay-Z.  However, I don’t think the rappers will have a lasting impact on the culture as the poets and writers of the 1960s and 1970s.

Dale: Thank you, Robert, for speaking to us… sharing your “experience.”  I look forward to sharing this interview with our family and friends back home. I am off to the book store to pick up one of your literary gifts. Ashe’