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Toni Morrison On Herself: “The Only Thing I Do For Me Is Writing”

In anticipation for Toni Morrison’s latest novel, Home, following the story of a Korean War veteran and his return to America in the 1950s, New York magazine wrote one of the best pieces on Toni Morrison that we’ve ever read. In it, writer Boris Kachka examine her feelings on her pen name (Surprise! She hates it), whether she believes her writing is as good as other people say it is (she does) and much, much more. We’ve lifted some of the best excerpts and encourage you to read the full piece. It’s extraordinary: 

On whether she deserves to be listed among the all-time greats,
regardless of skin color:

But two decades after she won her Nobel, Toni Morrison’s place in the pantheon is hardly assured. A writer of smaller ambitions would live on contentedly in this plush purgatory, but Morrison writes—more and more consciously, it seems—for posterity. Having once spearheaded the elevation of black women in culture—Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Oprah—she now finds herself struggling to cut them loose, to admit at long last what she’s always believed: that she’s not only the first, but the best. That she belongs as much with Faulkner and Joyce and Roth as she does with that illustrious sisterhood. That she will pass the test that begins only after Chloe Wofford is gone, and Toni Morrison is all that’s left.

On how she managed to develop such a strong command of literature
and storytelling:

At night her parents told R-rated ghost stories, like one about a murdered wife who returned home holding her own severed head. The following evening, the kids had to retell the tales with variations: Maybe it was snowing, or there was blood dripping from the head. “This was all language,” she says now. There were also fifteen-minute plays on the radio, which “influenced me as much if not more,” she remembers. “If they said ‘green,’ you had to figure out in your head what shade that was. And you only heard voices. So everything else you had to build, imagine. Everything.”

On what writing represents to her:

“All of my life is doing something for somebody else,” she says—though her children are long grown and she’s been divorced for almost 50 years. “Whether I’m being a good daughter, a good mother, a good wife, a good lover, a good teacher—and that’s all that. The only thing I do for me is writing. That’s really the real free place where I don’t have to answer.”

Read the rest of the article here and tell us – did you come away with a different view of Ms. Morrison? What book of hers is your favorite? 

  • Y'I Oche

    May 9, 2012

    Mama Toni! Glad I came when our sweedish Bel rang for you.

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