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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  November 21, 2011 2:00pm-2:30pm PST

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. a conversation about one of the art world's most famous figures, vincent van gogh. steven naifeh and gregory white smith have penned a biography about events and then go. also tonight, marie lu on her book "legend." glad you have joined us. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance
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supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: steven naifeh and gregory white smith are pulitzer prize- winning authors. their latest is easily one of the most talked-about books of the year. a new biography of a vincent van gogh. it is titled "van gogh: the
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life." good to have you here. >> thank you very much. tavis: let me start by asking what it is about a vincent van gogh that makes it worth giving 10 years of your life to do. we all make decisions and choices every single day. maybe you did not know it was going to be a decade when you started. why was it worth that? >> we did not know exactly what we were getting into. i think it was a realization that he was a unique cultural figure. you cannot name and another artist that is so loved. people go to his grave every year. this is a level of appreciation that goes way beyond any other artist.
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>> it's almost has a religious feeling. half a million people go visit his grave. they write little notes. painters will bring their paintbrushes and put them on the grave. russians will pour vodka. japanese visitors will bring the ashes of their ancestors and poured them on the grave site because they want them to live in maternity with the painter of "story night -- lived in eternity with a painter of starry night. >> we wanted to try to get at what it is about this art and this artist that has become such an indelible part of the human imagination that almost
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everybody knows his sunflowers and starry night. why does images speak to all of us so eloquently? >> we talked about it with the other people in the vincent van gogh world of writing. there a lot of people out there know the basic outlines. they know that he cut his ear off. they know that he supposedly killed himself. the life was even more miserable than it appears. they have also seen the pictures and the pictures are so joyful, life giving, that they get a sense that this man was able to extract duty and joy out of a life of sorrow. there is a kind of religious feeling towards them. he wanted to be a preacher long before he wanted to be an artist. tavis: he did want to be a
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minister. you suggested earlier that he was somebody who people really loved. people love him. he is one of the most misunderstood people. how can people -- how can somebody be so loved and so misunderstood? are we letting the person that we think we are loving? >> that is the challenge of this -- as his biographers. to get out who the real person was behind the myth. people love the myth. they love the idea of this guy who has no friends, spent most of this time alone. he seems to be -- his life seems to amount to nothing. he becomes this world-famous immortal artist. i think that is part of what it was that attracted us to do this
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project. tavis: there is a wonderful prose, the way you have crafted this paragraph. finding beauty in nature was not just one way of knowing god, it was the only way. those who could see that beauty truestress it were god's intermediaries. before, are to had already -- had always served religion. hart was religion. a beautiful -- art was religion. explaining how he finally came to appreciate the gift. >> he wanted -- when he was young, his father was a pastor. he desperately wanted to bring
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the kind of the -- he would follow his father out when he was helping poor people in the dutch countryside. the level of consolation and appreciation that those people had for what his father did, he said, to lead had a wife liked -- life like paul's. he could not stay in school long enough to become a creature. you had to have a lot of academic education. >> he also was not good with people. >> he had a lot of difficulties with people. tavis: difficulty being around people. >> he could not interact with them. there was a group of people would then the dutch protestant community who had these ideas.
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artists could see into the beauty of nature in a way that made them ministers. that is what he did. when you finally decided he could not be a minister, he decided he would use his art. tavis: you all right in such a way that i could never accept it. artists out their best to release our gods truest intermediaries. his father was a minister. his mother had no regard -- how does go on to be as great as vincent van gogh was when your mother cast suicide? >> the debate -- casts you
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decide. >> sometimes rejection can spur them on to greatness. if you keep on trying to win her favor until his very last day, when he died at 37. he was still trying to when her favor. she never visited a camp when he was in the hospital. she did send a photograph and he painted a very beautiful portrait of for. you could see in that portrait his desperation to when her favor. he was such a difficult child, such a stubborn child. he would not follow convention. he did not keep his clothes clean. >> she was a very conventional woman. >> she did not realize a lot of business behavior was because he had this mental illness. she did not forgive him. she just stopped liking him. it is hard for us to a imagine what it is like to grow up
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knowing that your mother does not like you. even 17 years after he died, until her very last day, he had already become quite famous, she continued to think that his art was ridiculous. tavis: i think about my own mama. she watches every night in indiana. i cannot imagine if my mother just passed me aside. >> that is what is so magical. he was certainly made miserable by. but he always picked himself up and pushed himself to achieve something. that is a kind of lesson for all of us who have difficult times. you can extract something
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something important and meaningful from a life of sorrow. tavis: there are a number of pieces of big news. about whether he was in fact murdered or killed himself. >> we discovered the traditional story, the mythology, is that he went out into a field one afternoon in july and shot himself. he shot himself in the stomach, so he dragged himself a mile away to the inn and he died about 30 hours later. his brother came to his bedside. >> there were a lot of problems with that story. less than 2% of people who kill themselves do it in the stomach. it is a painful way to die. it is hard to imagine why anyone
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would give him a gun. he had just come out of an insane asylum. we put that together with some other pieces of information. you have to read everything. a man who was 16 years old, who lived there, came forward and gave this very confessional interview. he admitted the gun was his and he admitted to a torturing vincent >> tormenting him. >> he does not admit to pulling the trigger. there is no statute of limitations on murder. the final clue is a much bigger story. when this very important american artist visited in the 1930's, what he was hearing was not the traditional myth.
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he was during that vincent was killed accidentally by a couple of boys. he decided to take the blame because he did not want to ruin their lives. you take all that information and it creates a much more plausible theory. >> ihe asked us for a copy. it was quite touching for us to know that he was perhaps the person who made a vincent van gogh world famous. tavis: i cannot do justice to the text. his mother rejected him, but his brother embraced him talk about a story of brotherly love. >> id is an incredible story of
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brotherly love. the kind of unconditional love that you hope to get from your parents, but you need to get from someone. his brother provided that. there is this traditional sibling relationship, which is both lovette and chris -- which is love and resentment. they had a very complicated relationship. vincent was the older brother that was supposed to succeed. there were all kinds of crosscurrent of affections and resentment. tavis: gregory white smith, thank you, sir, the new book is called "van gogh: the life." steven naifeh and gregory white smith are the authors. good to have you on.
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>> thank you so much. tavis: up next, a conversation with marie lu. tavis: marie lu move to the u.s. at the age of five. she had recited set on becoming a writer. her first novel will be in stores in just a matter of days. a film adaptation is being planned already. could you have you on the program. how old are you? >> i am 27. i was living in beijing as the time. i do remember a little bit of it. it was early summer, i think. we lived a couple blocks away from the square. a lot of the locals would see it as a tourist attraction. the students were protesting for
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a good couple of months. my aunt would take me to see the crowds. tavis: the book -- i will let you explain it. there is an element to in the narrative that speaks to me about the extent to which the ins to which government will go to cover up secrets. did that just happened? is that something that has been in your mind? >> it is something that came unconsciously to me. i am sure that all that had a very heavy influence on me. it was very internalized. it was something where i wanted to explore that concept of creating a dystopia from elements that have already happened. a lot of things that were the
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cultural revolution in china. all those things were elements that contributed to it. tavis: i want to jump into the novel in just a second. you started writing when? >> a long time ago. when i first came to the states, i started writing. as a way to help myself learn english. i would start stapling together a little booklets. it was not until i was 15 then i started writing more seriously. that is when i figured out that real people and wrote books. tavis: at the age of 15. you have a literary agent at what age? >> i got my first agent when i was 17. my current agent i got a few years ago. i think i was 25. tavis: what do you do by day? what is your real job?
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>> now, i am a full-time writer. i was an art director for asia and video game company. that is my life, right? -- i was an art director for a video game company. that is my life, right? tavis: there is a lot of hype on this book already. how does it feel -- the book was picked up in a bidding war. there are comparisons already to harry potter. how do you handle that kind of pressure? >> i do not know. sometimes i wake up and pinch myself. i feel like i am you're talking to you -- it is all very surreal. it is something that i tried to remember every day. i will have one of my neurotic
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days or i am breathing into a paperback. it has been a crazy ride so far. >> what are your mom and dad saying about this crazy ride? >> my mom is really excited about it. she is telling all for friends and they're getting ready to -- when can we tell everybody to go to the bookstore? things like that. tavis: has she seen your new hairdo? >> no, not yet. she says it is bad for my hair, that is what she is going to say. tavis: you have to do this because there are two parts of the story. how would you describe what " legend" is?
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>> its is a young adult book. the united states has been split into two. it is said in los angeles. it tells the story of a 15-year- old boy who is america's most wanted criminal. he is being hunted down by a 15- year-old teenage girl prodigy sent by the military. as they -- a lot of things about the society, that neither of them knew about. that is where the story goes. i have always been interested in exploring the concept of child prodigies. when i was younger, i wrote a story about mozart as a child. i always love this idea of young people who are able to take control of their lives and bring change at such a young age.
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one of my favorite books when i was younger was about a boy prodigy who was sent by the military. it is something that has always been interesting. tavis: i am curious about your process. there must be a couple of more books being planned. i thought that might be the case. this is your first. i want to get into your process early on in your career. kind of story, how do you create this world? >> for this book in particular, i was watching les mis on television at one afternoon. i thought it would be really fun to put that into a teenage perspective. what happens if you have a really smart young criminal and
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a really smart young detective chasing each other? from there, that is where the first seed of the story. the world came from a map that i saw on line about what our world would look like if the oceans rose 100 meters. it was amazing seeing how it would change our landscape. the southeast coast of america was gone. there is a huge lake covering california from los angeles to san francisco. it may be but the two together and so i decided to write a story about these kids growing up in this destroyed world. tavis: what is the united states split? what are we fighting about? >> it is mostly a fight over land. there is overpopulation. there's a lot of poverty, so people are at war. the east coast has much less
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land than the west coast. that is one of the main reasons why they're fighting. tavis: you are dealing with some pretty heady stuff. these are serious issues. is the book purely about entertainment? are there some hidden messages? >> i initially wrote it to entertain. i did not set out to put any specific messages into the story. now that it has finished and i have time to look back over it, the main theme is to help encourage young people and people in general that the world around them may not be what it seems to be. there may be people keeping things from you. i think the point of it is to keep an open mind at all times. find out the truth for yourself and see what the world actually
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is instead of what other people want you to see it as. and to break out of that bridge that is something that a lot of the characters and the book explore. tavis: that is beautiful. i want to make sure we get this on tape. are you prepared for how this may dramatically altered and changed your life? your video game job is already gone. are you ready for what this is going to do? >> i do not know. i do not think i am ready for what is happening right now. it is something that i am taking day-by-day. i am hoping that allows me to keep writing and creating new stories. i try not to think too much about it because it freaked me out. tavis: you should be excited.
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we are excited for you. car name is -- her name is marie lu. the book is called "legend." >> thank you so much. tavis: thank you for watching. keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a with christoph waltz and hill harper. conversation with >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day
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better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television]
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