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Joyce Carol Oates

National Book Award

I was doing a book on boxing with a photographer. And I was very fascinated by the material. And I wanted to write the book very, very badly. So I was in a state of anxiety and tension about writing it. And it seemed that I could not even begin it. And I tried and tried for days to get a way into this book. And I had different openings. And I simply couldn't do it. And so I finally felt that I'd given up. And I was very disintegrating and very depressed. I thought it was the beginning of the end, that I would never be able to do anything again. So I went to bed, and all night long I was thinking about these distressing thoughts. And towards the morning, I started thinking, "Well, failure is actually what most people experience in boxing." Most athletes inhabit failure, but particularly boxers. And they're punished -- extremely punished -- for instance, for failure, or a little bit of carelessness. So I started writing about a boxing match I had seen in which somebody failed ignominiously, and the crowd in Madison Square Garden was vicious. And I thought, "There. I can identify with those two boxers." And I found a way to write about the whole sport by way of beginning with failure, with the image of failure.
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Pierre Omidyar

Founder and Chairman, eBay

You can't predict growth and success -- no one in their right mind would predict 30 percent growth for another year every month -- I mean, monthly growth for another year. So we were behind on a lot of things and a lot of the infrastructure, and we had some fairly public failures in the middle of '99, and where our systems went down for 22 hours and then went down for eight hours after that. And we had a very large community then. Not as large as today obviously, but still very large, front page news. We had CNN satellite trucks in the parking lot. I mean, it was big, big. "The world is watching, this company is gone. It's going away." And I think failure of that magnitude, or a challenge of that magnitude, is really important and I'm glad that we faced it so early in our evolution, because Meg, who is the CEO -- I brought on Meg in March of '98 -- she really woke up to the fact that infrastructure and technology was critical and just really built that organization out over the next -- it was a six to nine month process for us to kind of get over that. And so I think those challenges are also really critical and really important. And what you learn from them is, of course, kind of what they say, "If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger," and it's true. And what you learn from those challenges and those failures are what will get you past the next ones.
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Pierre Omidyar

Founder and Chairman, eBay

Pierre Omidyar: I always wanted to be involved with computers. My original kind of career choice, what I thought I was going to do was more computer engineering, which was, I thought -- you know, figure out the hardware and the software and combine the two to learn about computers. When I got to college at Tufts I was accepted into the engineering school to do an electrical engineering and computer engineering program. I learned quickly there in my first semester -- actually my second -- well, I learned very quickly that the engineering program was a little bit too rigorous for me. I took a class. I took a chemistry class, and I think that was second semester of freshman year, because it was required for the engineering program, taking chemistry. I had no interest in chemistry. And I had worked -- I worked so hard for that class trying to understand what was going on and study for the test and everything, and did so poorly. I remember for the mid-term I had studied harder than I had for anything else and got 25 out of 100 on the test. And it was at that point I said, "You know what, this is kind of ridiculous." So I transferred out of the engineering college and went to liberal arts and just did the pure computer science.
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Suzan-Lori Parks

Pulitzer Prize for Drama

I went to her (the English teacher) and she said, you know, in that advisory thing that you do when you're about to graduate from high school, and she said, "What are you thinking of studying in college, Miss Parks?" and I said, "I'm going to study English. I want to be a writer." I was all excited. And she looked in her grade book, and I got all these F's in spelling, and she said, "I don't think it would be a good idea for you to be a writer because you're such a poor speller." Probably not the advice one would give today, because of spell-check, but back in the day, that was the prevailing wisdom, as they say. I was brought up to say "Yes, ma'am" and "No, ma'am" and "Yes, sir. No, sir." Respect of elders and whatnot. So I said, "Yes, ma'am. Okay. Well, I'm not supposed to be a writer because I'm a poor speller." Fortunately, I was really good in science, and I was really good in physics. I used to ace my physics tests. So I thought, "Well I'll just be a scientist." But what you love comes back to you. So I ended up in writing.
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Suzan-Lori Parks

Pulitzer Prize for Drama

I had to take a secretarial course because I was not a fast typer. So I learned to type a million words a minute. It was amazing. So I had been doing that, those day jobs, and writing, writing, writing at night. Writing my plays at night, and hanging out in various places and volunteering my work. Like, "I'll help clean your theater," I said to one group of folks, "Just so I can be around you guys, I'll be the janitor team." Lots of young, up-and-coming artists do that sort of thing. Didn't have a desire to go to graduate school, because I'd had James Baldwin as a teacher. I touch my forehead because it's like he gave me a kiss on the forehead. I had James Baldwin as a teacher, and I didn't feel that I needed to enroll in another academic program, but I needed to do the work.
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Suzan-Lori Parks

Pulitzer Prize for Drama

I worked on it. Draft, draft, draft, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite for like four years, sat in front of my computer one day and said, "This is not working." Threw out everything that wasn't working, threw out all the plot,. It wasn't like The Scarlet Letter at all. So I threw out the plot, threw out all the characters. I got down to two things. One was a character named Hester, and one was the title, Fucking A. I threw out Hester, kept the title, and I heard a voice in my head, "What about my play?" and I said, "You're not " Hester says, "What about my play?" I say, " I'm cutting you because you don't work. It doesn't work. So I'm cutting everything that doesn't work." She says, "Oh yes, yes, yes. I have a play," and in five seconds, I had the whole story of a play. I knew that play wasn't called Fucking A. "So what's the name of your play?" She said, "In the Blood." I said, "Oh." So I very quickly was able to write a play called In the Blood which is about Hester La Negrita and her five children by five different fathers.
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Suzan-Lori Parks

Pulitzer Prize for Drama

I have writer's block all the time, but I write anyway. I have difficult days all the time, but I haul myself up. I think that's very important. Some folks think that if you have some success in a field that it's been Easy Street, a level road all the time. We can even look at people like Lance Armstrong. He has to ride up all those hills to win his prizes. We all do. We're all in the Tour de France every day. We're all like that. Folks coming up in the arts, or in any kind of profession should know that all of us are climbing mountains every day. Yeah, I have writer's block all the time, but I write anyway. I don't mind, like, "Oh, this is crap!" I don't care. I can make it better, 'cause I rewrite, and then I make it better.
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