I had the opportunity to see Jim Carroll speak when I was in college. He was absolutely riveting. As expected, he read selections from his famous memoir, The Basketball Diaries. He also did a lot of spoken word that was powerful, edgy, and utterly honest. For the first time, I experienced literature in a live, organic way. It was an awesome performance that still resonates with me today.
After the reading, Jim Carroll was gracious enough to field some questions from the audience. A student, probably nineteen or twenty years old, asked him if he felt like a sellout for signing the rights to The Basketball Diaries over to MGM. Now, this was back during the Slick Willy Clinton administration – right around 1996. The film, The Basketball Diaries, had been released about a year earlier in the spring of ‘95 to much critical acclaim and commercial success. This was almost two decades after Carroll’s memoir was first published.
If you’ve read the memoir or seen the film, you’ll know that Carroll had a tough childhood. In his early teens he was addicted to heroin, and he fueled his habit by stealing and prostituting himself on the gritty streets of New York City. By sheer will, he clawed his way back to sobriety and went on to make numerous artistic contributions in prose, poetry, and music before his death in 2009.
As Jim Carroll stood up on stage, he took a moment to consider the student’s question. “We all have to sell somethin’, kid. It might as well be somethin’ you enjoy,” he said to resounding applause.
If you’re not familiar with Carroll’s work, I suggest you take some time to see what he was all about. The challenge now is not to emulate his style, but to find inspiration from him so that we might have the courage to write, unabashedly, what is in our own hearts.
Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.