Do you think a reader unacquainted with [African-American] folklore can properly understand your work?
Yes, I think so. It’s like jazz; there’s no inherent problem which prohibits understanding but the assumptions brought to it. We don’t all dig Shakespeare uniformly, or even “Little Red Riding Hood.” The understanding of art depends finally upon one’s willingness to extend one’s humanity and one’s knowledge of human life. I noticed, incidentally, that the Germans, having no special caste assumptions concerning American Negroes, dealt with my work simply as a novel. I think the Americans will come to view it that way in twenty years–if it’s around that long.
more from the Paris Review here.