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Carlos Fuentes

Author, Scholar & Diplomat

I wanted to be a writer always. I had published my first stories in Chile when I was 11 years old, and went on from there and won contests in high school. Well, that was my vocation, no doubt about it. So when I was told, "Now you have to do law school," I said, "Why? I want to be a writer; I don't want to be a lawyer." But the pressure in Mexico at the time was if you are a writer, you will die of hunger, so you must have a professional title. I remember visiting the great Mexican writer Alfonso Reyes, who my father told, "Convince Carlos he has to be a lawyer." And he said -- and Alfonso was the greatest Mexican writer at the time -- and he said, "I am a writer, but first I am a lawyer, because Mexico is a formalistic country. We are all hot cups of coffee, and if you don't have the handle to pick us up, people will burn their hands. You have to be Doctor something, Licenciado something, Engineer something or other." So I obeyed him and I went to school in Mexico. I went to school in Geneva. I achieved a broadness of education I would not have had otherwise. By reading law -- going back to read philosophy, Roman law, the medieval times, which are so important to understand Latin America, the philosophy of the Middle Ages -- I got a whole picture of the world that I would not have had if I had not studied law. So I'm very grateful for it.
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Carlos Fuentes

Author, Scholar & Diplomat

You have to love reading in order to be a good writer. Because writing doesn't start with you. It doesn't spring from nothing. It doesn't start at zero. You have to be conscious that there is a tremendous tradition behind you, a tradition that goes way back to the Bible and Homer and whatever you wish -- and Aztec myths. You have to see yourself as part of the chain of being, if you wish. You are part of a process of language and memory and imagination. To put it in a nutshell, I think that to create, you have to be conscious of tradition. But to keep the tradition alive, you have to create something new. That would be my formula.
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Millard Fuller

Founder, Habitat for Humanity International

Millard Fuller: No. We called together a group of people, and we had sessions. And we prayed about it and we talked about it, and we came up with a program which was called Koinonia Partners. That was the name of our first ministry, "Partners," because we saw ourselves as in partnership with God, and in partnership with one another, partnership with the poor, and we had partnership industries, partnership housing, partnership farming. And the partnership industries, Linda got involved in that, making tie-dyed T-shirts and dashikis and all kinds of other clothing items. We started a little factory there to make women's pants, and we hired a bunch of local poor people to make those clothing items. And we started a worm farm, and we grew peanuts and cotton -- not cotton -- peanuts and corn and soybeans, and we bought cattle. And then we began to build houses. We actually began to build one house for one needy family. That was our partnership housing program, and while that house was under construction -- we had the walls up -- on October 29, 1969, Clarence Jordan died suddenly of a heart attack. He was in his study writing a sermon to be delivered at nearby Mercer University, and he just leaned his head against the wall and died very suddenly, just like my mother had died many years earlier. And there we were with this dream and this vision underway -- with partnership farming, partnership industries, partnership housing -- and Clarence Jordan was dead.
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Ernest Gaines

A Lesson Before Dying

Ernest J. Gaines: I read Turgenev, Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, and that book had a tremendous impact on me. It was about a young man who came back to the old village to visit the old people after he had graduated from his university, and he used to be a doctor, and falls in love with a beautiful woman and all that sort of thing. They lived out in the country. When I was writing my first novel, Catherine Carmier -- I started writing it in '58, I think, '58, '59 -- I knew nothing about writing a novel, and I used that Fathers and Sons as sort of my Bible, my guide. My first novel was about a young man who had been away from the old place, and then returning, and falls in love with a beautiful girl, and he loses her. I was really very much impressed by -- influenced by -- Turgenev's Fathers and Sons at that time, but then I started reading other books, of course. I was reading other books at the same time, but that was the book that had the earliest influence on my structure -- structuring a novel. It was small, and it was tightly written. It was about the country and older people and a young educated man who was a nihilist. So I thought at that time I was a nihilist, too.
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Ernest Gaines

A Lesson Before Dying

Then I retitled it A Short Biography of Miss Jane Pittman, when we were talking about it, and I worked on it about a year, and my editor -- who was Bill Decker, he was at the Dial Press at the time -- Bill called me one day and he says -- because I sent him drafts of it -- he called me one day and he said, "Listen, Ernie, I think this book has to be told from the first-person point of view. She has to tell the story. These people are not telling the story right." I told him, "Well, forget it. I'm going to go and continue to do what I'm doing," and I must have done that for another month or so. And then I realized he was right. So I started in chapter one. "It was a day something like right now," she says. "Hot, hot, and dusty, dusty" were my first lines in it, and then she talks about how the Secessionist army came in, and then the Northern army behind them, chasing them and so on, and it just started there, and things began to move to move to move. I continued to read and read and read about the Civil War, and then I read about the Reconstruction period, and then I kept reading. I would write in the morning from -- oh, I'd say from about 9:00 to about 2:00, and I had to go to work. I had part-time work, and then I'd work about four hours. Then I'd come back home, and I'd read. I was always a few years ahead of the time I was writing about. If I was writing about the Civil War, I was already reading about the Reconstruction period. If I was writing about that, I was reading about some other period in time. So I'd keep reading and reading and reading. So by the time my little character would get here, I have already gotten all the information or most of it.
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