Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog

Toni Morrison lets us into her life

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Today I read Toni Morrison’s interview for The New York Times Magazine. She talks about her newest book, God Help the Child, who she writes for, and her hopes and fears. She even reveals that every good story ends with the acquisition of knowledge.

Morrison explains that she is interested in “writing without the gaze, without the white gaze”. She wants all types of people to read her work and think about the people she breaths life into with her words. She explains that there is a limit to a white audience’s reception, that “you can come in and you can sit, and you can tell me what you think, and I’m glad you are here, but you should know that this house isn’t built for you or by you”.

She talks a lot about the black arts movement in activist terms, therapeutic terms, and in historical terms.

She reveals that the purpose of black writing is not to explain black life to the world but it is often a useful tool for therapeutic growth and rebirth. She explains that black literature is “how we pray… how we escape… how we hurt… how we repent… how we move on”.

She also connects the black arts movement to activist work. She reveals in her interview that she considers the editing and publishing of black geniuses to be her contribution to the civil rights movement. I would have expected her to say that her personal writing is her contribution but she explains that our world does not need solitary heroes but a “heroic writer’s movement: assertive, militant, pugnacious”.

I found her ending statement to be extremely relevant to our Black Women writers class. She explained that she has received criticism for writing on past civil right denials and traumas, like slavery and segregation. She explains that even though she is writing for black people, she still hopes that her works remind those that need it most that they cannot easily turn their back on this country’s inherited history. Morrison is fighting against all of those people that want to look away because her writing focuses on those topics that “American’s don’t like to talk about or are incapable of talking about in a lot of ways”.

One of the moments in the interview in which I felt Morrison soften was when she talked about her sister, Lois. The interviewer asked her if she and her sister were close and the interviewer “got an eye roll that was so sharp it chopped down the question… ‘My sister?’ she finally said. ‘I need her'”. I fell deeper in love with Toni Morrison after this humanizing response. Even the seemingly strongest fighters of a valiant revolution need to depend on their sisters.

“What Toni Morrison Saw”

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah for New York Times Magazine, 4.12.15


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