Hat tip to my brilliant friend Andrea for sharing this lovely article about Toni Morrison ahead of the publication of her novel, Home:
She never took drugs, she says, not even as a teenager when everyone around her was smoking dope. “I did not want to feel anything that did not originate with me. Because the big deal, as they described it, was that it made you feel so good. I did not want to feel something that was dependent on it. I want to feel what I feel. What’s mine. Even if it’s not happiness, whatever that means. Because you’re all you’ve got.”
When she started The Bluest Eye she was the single mother of two boys, living in Syracuse, New York. She rose at 4am every morning to write before work. If she felt discouraged, she thought about her grandmother, who had fled the south with seven children and no means of support. Any existential panic – about her income, her prospects as a writer, her availability as a mother – evaporated in the face of daily necessity.
At one level, says Morrison, it was terrifically simple. “I was young. I started writing when I was 39. That’s the height of life. The real liberation was the kids, because their needs were simple. One, they needed me to be competent. Two, they wanted me to have a sense of humour. And three, they wanted me to be an adult. No one else asked that of me. Not in the workplace – where sometimes they’d want you to be feminine, or dominant, or cute.” She smiles. “The kids didn’t care if I did my hair, didn’t care what I looked like.”
She had married Harold Morrison, an architect, after meeting him at Howard University in Washington DC and they had divorced six years later, leaving her with two sons, Harold and Slade. At Random House, she was first an editor in the textbook division and later, moved to offices in Manhattan, a fiction editor. She was supported at home by a network of women friends, who helped her with the kids, and some of whose fiction she published. As Morrison has said, “We read about how Ajax and Achilles will die for each other, but very little about the friendship of women.”
I adore Toni Morrison and have for many years. She is inspiring to me not just as one of the greatest living American authors today, but also as a woman unafraid of self-possession and authenticity. The piece is rather long, but it’s quite good. It provides insight into her that we’re unlikely to get elsewhere since she’s decided not to write a memoir.