Richard Price on Drugs and Writing
Price has written eight novels. His first was The Wanderers (1974), a coming-of-age story set in the Bronx in 1962, written when Price was 24 years old. It was adapted into a movie in 1979 by director Philip Kaufman. Price's other novels include Bloodbrothers (1976), Clockers (1992), Freedomland (1998), Samaritan (2003), and Lush Life (2008).
He has written numerous screenplays, of which the best known are The Color of Money (1986) for which he was nominated for an Oscar, Sea of Love (1989), Mad Dog and Glory (1992), Ransom (1996), Shaft (2000). He also wrote for the HBO series The Wire. He is often featured in cameo roles in the films he writes.
Price has written for The New York Times, Esquire Magazine, The New Yorker, the Village Voice, Rolling Stone and other publications. He lives in New York City with his family and has taught writing at Columbia, Yale, and New York University (NYU).
In 1999, Price received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.
Question: Have drugs affected your work?
Richard Price: Nobody in their right mind has ever done anything good on drugs, work-wise. This always comes up because of Clockers. Back in the early ‘80s, I got messed up on sniffing coke, just like any other idiot who was making too much money and it really wrecked me for a couple of years in many ways, writing being just one of the ways. So in those three years, I don’t think I wrote two sentences worth a nickel but once I cleaned up and I started teaching at a rehab center in the Bronx at Day Top Village and crack was coming on the scene-- A lot of people are too young to remember now but like in the late ‘80s, crack was the most frightening word anybody ever heard. It was the essence of nihilism. It was the one word that was going to destroy everything in every city in America and I was kind of haunted by that. In fact, I was teaching kids, crack heads or who had been dealing crack and they were non-white, from broken homes, had some really awful histories and they were doing a drug 10 times worse than the sniffing coke that I took and they were doing it to cope and it made me crazy. So my own drug history sort of fueled me into sort of embracing how much worse it’s gotten since I stopped. At the same time, I started hanging out with cops to do Sea of Love, this police film and I went to a housing project in Jersey City. I’m from the projects but I was gone from projects culture in 1966. This is 20-plus years later and that place was a tiger cage. It was devastating. It looked like Beyond Thunderdome. I couldn’t imagine how anybody could live here. Actually, I got so freaked out by it that I just moved towards it, like a bird to a snake. In the long run, my drug experience sort of fueled all the stuff that got me back into writing. I finally felt an urgency about wanting to write something in a way that I didn’t want to put it up for screenplay fiddling.
Recorded On: 3/3/08
Richard Price says nobody has ever produced good work on drugs.
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