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Toni Morrison


“When I began, there was just one thing that I wanted to write about, which was the true devastation of racism on the most vulnerable, the most helpless unit in the society – a black female and a child.”

From a 2003 New Yorker profile:

In a review of “Paradise,” Patricia Storace wrote, “Toni Morrison is relighting the angles from which we view American history, changing the very color of its shadows, showing whites what they look like in black mirrors. To read her work is to witness something unprecedented, an invitation to a literature to become what it has claimed to be, a truly American literature.” It’s a claim that her detractors would also make, to opposite effect.

“I’m already discredited, I’m already politicized, before I get out of the gate,” Morrison said. “I can accept the labels”—the adjectives like “black” and “female” that are often attached to her work—“because being a black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn’t limit my imagination; it expands it. It’s richer than being a white male writer because I know more and I’ve experienced more.” . . .

Morrison always lived, she said, “below or next to white people,” and the schools were integrated—stratification in Lorain was more economic than racial—but in the Wofford house there was an intense suspicion of white people. In a 1976 essay, Morrison recalled watching her father attack a white man he’d discovered lurking in their apartment building. “My father, distrusting every word and every gesture of every white man on earth, assumed that the white man who crept up the stairs one afternoon had come to molest his daughters and threw him down the stairs and then our tricycle after him. (I think my father was wrong, but considering what I have seen since, it may have been very healthy for me to have witnessed that as my first black-white encounter.)” I asked her about the story. “The man was a threat to us, we thought,” Morrison replied. “He scared us. I’m sure that man was drunk, you know, but the important thing was the notion that my father was a protector, and particularly against the white man. Seeing that physical confrontation with a white man and knowing that my father could win thrilled, excited, and pleased me. It made me know that it was possible to win.”


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