Making a Difference: A Passion for Words

By Gerard, Chrissa | Humanities, January/February 2001 | Go to article overview

Making a Difference: A Passion for Words


Gerard, Chrissa, Humanities


Toni Morrison does not choose easy subjects for her novels. She wrote Beloved after hearing the account of an escaped slave who had killed her child to prevent the child from spending life in bondage. In Song of Solomon, Milkman Dead sets out to recover a financial fortune, discovering instead the legacy of his ancestors' suffering and flight to freedom. The Bluest Eye depicts a black adolescent impregnated by her father, who wishes fiercely to become beautiful by her eyes turning blue.

"The impulse to write fiction is a question in my mind, a 'what if,'" Morrison explains. "Take away the generalizations to see what it is really like, not just in political terms. Like to be an abused child, or a slave. Not, 'what does it mean?' But, 'what does it feel like?'" Known for the depth of allegory and literary allusion in her novels, Morrison strives to write novels that are both accessible and beautiful. "The trick is not writing for a limited audience. The really hard thing is to write for people who are fastidious in their taste and for people who are not."

Morrison also writes and edits nonfiction on black history and literature, the writing process, and social issues. At times she is inspired by news stories such as Anita Hill's testimony or the O.J. Simpson trial-- especially when they touch on issues of power, race, and gender. Her motivation for editing a collection of essays on the Clarence Thomas hearings was born of dissatisfaction. …

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