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Ta-Nehisi Coates on Using Long Sentences in His Book, “The Water Dancer” | Oprah’s Book Club | OWN

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Can I talk about the length of
the sentences at the beginning? OPRAH WINFREY: Yes,
can you, please? OK, all right. Can you talk about the
fact that the first sentence is an entire paragraph? Can you talk about that? And OK. OK, everybody raise your hand. How many of you had to
read it more than one time? More than two times? More than three? OK.
Three people. OK. And OK, when you
stopped reading it, did you actually know
what you were reading, or did you just say, I’m– I’m just going to go ahead? [INAUDIBLE] I’m going to give
you the benefit of the doubt. I’ll figure it out later. Yeah, right?
OK. So how do you feel,
like, as a reader? Do you feel like that sentence
should have been shorter? I felt like that there was
a reason why you did that. Oh, that’s true. I felt like there was a
reason why you did that. I thought–
TA-NEHISI COATES: That’s true. No, there was a reason. And the reason was, for me,
sentences in the way they’re written can contain
more information than the actual thing that
it’s trying to tell you. Now, he’s trying to tell
you an actual thing. OPRAH WINFREY: Yeah. And the actual
thing is, you know, this was the only place
that this experience could have happened. If I was to boil it down,
that’s what he’s saying. Yeah. It had to happen right
here, you know what I mean? Yes. My first, you know,
experience is conduction. It sets, you know, the rest
of this, you know, in motion. Had to happen right
here on the bridge. But in writing in
that way, he’s telling you something about himself. A, he’s telling
you he’s a person who remembers all
of these details– – Yes.
– –that that’s how his– – The red dirt.
– Yeah, exactly. – Yes, the whole thing.
– That that’s how his– – And the roads leading south.
– Yes. – That.
– Yes, yes. Yeah. So there’s all of that, too. And it’s also just the literal
motion of somebody digging through their memory,
you know what I mean? Trying to recover their
mother, you know what I mean? In both of those sentences.

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