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Interview By Michael Cromartie
Among the many brilliant black essayists now at work, Stanley Crouch is one of the most unpredictable, one of the most reliably outspoken, and one of the most wide-ranging. Crouch's third collection of essays, Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, 1995-1997 (Pantheon Books, 321 pp.; $25), is characteristically eclectic, encompassing subjects as various as Duke Ellington (Crouch commands an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz), William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray, Richard Wright, John Ford, World War II, the death of Ron Brown, the O. J. Simpson trial, and "Our American Condition." At a time when many reports from black Americans are grim indeed, Crouch holds fast to his "tragic optimism." He ends the introduction to this new collection with a single line, all caps: "VICTORY IS ASSURED."
Michael Cromartie met with Crouch in Washington, D.C., where he was in the midst of a book tour. Interviewing this man is rather like attempting conversation with a freight train. Questions are merely points of departure for dazzling improvisations, uncontainable in these pages. To get the full flavor of Stanley Crouch, hasten to your favorite bookstore or dial up your Internet provider.
The New Yorker magazine describes you as being "an independent thinker unconstrained by any affiliation with any camp, creed, or organization." To what would you attribute this independent streak?
I would attribute it to the fact that I want to be able to use anything of value from whomever or wherever it comes. I don't care whether it's from a religious person or from a nonbeliever, whether it's from someone on the Left or somebody on the Right, someone in the middle or someone who swings back and forth. I don't particularly care, because I think that a country as complex as ours with a population of more than 250 million cannot be concerned with category at the expense of the quality of the idea. I'm interested in getting the best that we can get.