Essays written by toni morrison

I had a very good editor, superlative for me—Bob Gottlieb.

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What made him good for me was a number of things—knowing what not to touch; asking all the questions you probably would have asked yourself had there been the time. Good editors are really the third eye. Good editors identify that place and sometimes make suggestions. But within the relationship if there is some trust, some willingness to listen, remarkable things can happen.

I read books all the time that I know would have profited from not a copy editor but somebody just talking through it. If you work well without an editor, and your books are well received for five or ten years, and then you write another one—which is successful but not very good—why should you then listen to an editor? You have told students that they should think of the process of revision as one of the major satisfactions of writing.

Do you get more pleasure out of writing the first draft, or in the actual revision of the work? They are different. I am profoundly excited by thinking up or having the idea in the first place. What on earth is that about, when there are so many more things that they can do, so many more choices?

All right , so this is an embarrassment of riches, but so what. Why is everybody so miserable? No, I know how I feel. But I am interested in the complexity, the vulnerability of an idea. I wanted to be a reader. I thought everything that needed to be written had already been written or would be. I am a pretty good reader. I love it. It is what I do, really.

So, if I can read it, that is the highest compliment I can think of.

Toni Morrison | Biography, Books, & Facts |

People say, I write for myself, and it sounds so awful and so narcissistic, but in a sense if you know how to read your own work— that is, with the necessary critical distance—it makes you a better writer and editor. Critique it that way. Only me. If I come to a place where I am unsure, I have the characters to go to for reassurance. By that time they are friendly enough to tell me if the rendition of their lives is authentic or not.

But there are so many things only I can tell. After all, this is my work. I have to take full responsibility for doing it right as well as doing it wrong. I went back confident that those fifty pages were really first-rate, but when I read them each page of the fifty was terrible. It was really ill-conceived. I read that you started writing after your divorce as a way of beating back the loneliness.

Was that true, and do you write for different reasons now? Sort of. Sounds simpler than it was.

Meaning out in the world. Teaching makes a big difference, but that is not enough. Teaching could make me into someone who is complacent, unaware, rather than part of the solution. So what makes me feel as though I belong here out in this world is not the teacher, not the mother, not the lover, but what goes on in my mind when I am writing. Then I belong here and then all of the things that are disparate and irreconcilable can be useful. I can do the traditional things that writers always say they do, which is to make order out of chaos. Even if you are reproducing the disorder, you are sovereign at that point.

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Struggling through the work is extremely important—more important to me than publishing it. If I had a gift for it.


'I wanted to carve out a world both culture specific and race-free': an essay by Toni Morrison

All I can do is read books and write books and edit books and critique books. I would lose interest. There are people who can organize other people and I cannot. It was very late. I always thought I was probably adept, because people used to say so, but their criteria might not have been mine. It meant nothing. It was by the time I was writing Song of Solomon , the third book, that I began to think that this was the central part of my life.

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You are not saying, I am a mother, I am a wife. But when you move to writer , what is that supposed to mean? Is that a job? Is this the way you make your living? A mother, a husband, a teacher—somebody—said, OK, go ahead—you can do it. The entitlement was something they could take for granted. It was all very strange. If someone asked me, What do you do? Because when you meet people and go to lunch, if they say, What do you do?

Then they have to either like it or not like it. People feel obliged to like or not like and say so. It is perfectly all right to hate my work. It really is. I have close friends whose work I loathe. Oh yes, I wanted to make it a private thing. I wanted to own it myself. Because once you say it, then other people become involved. Oh, it would have been awful. Secondly, I think they would have fired me.