Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Toni Morrison on Creativity

Here are some excerpts from a 2009 interview with one of my favorite authors. 

Q: Do you find you’ve become more creative as you’ve gotten older? Oh, yes. I’m much, much better with creative things—people generally get better. They just know more.

Q: Your mind certainly seems to have stayed fertile. Yes, but what’s really important is humor—the way you see through things. And I don’t mean just “Ho, ho, ho!” but real irony about the diabolical nature of things. If you don’t have that, you just collapse.

Q: Except most people probably don’t think “funny” when they think of Toni Morrison and her books. Well, let me tell you what the deal is about the happiness in my books. I do not write about people who are just going to live a happy life, because it’s not compelling, there’s no angst. But if people have had an epiphany, that is called happiness. Some way they are improved. It may be a hard lesson, but to me a good idea and realization is the best thing there is for the mind.

Q: You yourself certainly seem happy. How do you reconcile the desire to stay this way with the realities of aging, of loss? I can’t. I don’t reconcile. I’m unreconciled. Completely. I’m not even reconciled to my own death! What kind of outrage is that?

Q: So what does that mean—are we, you, approaching aging all wrong? No, no. We should be as active and cared for—in health terms—and busy as possible. The bad thing is regret.

Q: You have regret? Oh, yes. Full of it— everything I did right, I didn’t do well enough. I’m not morbid at all. It’s just that I would like to do it again.

Q: But you won the Nobel Prize! That made you happy? It made my mother happier. And it got me a lot of money.

Q: Did it change you? It changed other people—they look at you differently. And then people use you—nicely, but that’s okay. It’s like there’s a person who won the Nobel Prize, and her name is Toni Morrison. And then there’s a person right behind her named Chloe [Morrison’s birth name], and that’s me.

Are you a Morrison fan?  What’s your favorite book? 

Excerpted from AARP Magazine, Jan/Feb. 2009


Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Love it! " . . . I'm not even reconciled to my own death. What kind of outrage is that!"

At one parameter of our property there is a cemetery - hidden behind a long stone wall and tall trees. But on occasion I hear motor and scraping/digging noises. It always takes me a moment to realize that a grave is being dug. I try to sit with that - as close as I get to being a monk sitting in a cemetery - and absorb the reminder that that is my fate too. So challenging to absorb and accept. Helps a bit to know nobel prize winners struggle with the same issue. Thanks for post.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Wonderful interview.
It is always a treat to listen to someone you admire speak on their creative process.

Saz said...

Oh wowow thanks for this, Ive just started today A very moot...

isnt she beautiful too!?

Thanks for poppinf over today to MMM's, you want in, shall l sign you up...for a post now and again?

if so email me on sazfab@gmail and l'll send you an invite..
saz x (FFF & MMM)

Eleonora Baldwin said...

Yes, total Morrison fan. Song of Solomon I think is my fave.

That was a very interesting interview, I like Toni's angle on aging!

Big hugs,
Lola xx

Woman in a Window said...

This is horrible but I remember NOONE. I'm sure I should know her and she sounds vastly interesting. The bit on regret is a surprise. And I really appreciated the part about her and the Nobel Prize.

Unknown said...

I am reading a book all the time it seems. I looked up what she has written and I don't think I have read one yet. I will definitely start. "Jazz" looks like a good one. I love the music, smooth jazz of today.

Which is one of your favs?

Ingrid Mida said...

How refreshingly candid! I love it that she admits she has regrets. I thought that one is supposed to regret nothing - since it is all part of the journey of life.

Suecae Sounds said...

I haven't read a book by her. But she certainly seems like a very interesting and fascinating person.

Rosaria Williams said...

I was disturbed by Beloved, had to reread it, analyze and break it down to accept its internal coherence.

La Belette Rouge said...

I hate to admit that The Bluest Eye" is the only book of hers I read. "Long hours she sat looking in the mirror, trying to discover the secret of the ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teachers and classmates alike." So sad and so beautiful and so sad.

I have so many personal associations to this book but they all sound silly as I type them. Instead of sharing them I will instead thank you for this lovely interview. It is inspiring to think that with age creativity and creative fertility grows.

Lucy said...

She's so genuine and honest- How refreshing! Thanks:)

Lori ann said...

Oh dear, I have at least 3 of her books sitting here, still unread. I will put them at the top of my list now.

(the books came from my daughter, who is a fan)

Cynthia L. H. said...

Fascinating post, sallymandy!!!
Thank you!!!
We read "Recitatif" in Literature class this last semester. It was my first introduction to Toni Morrison. I was intrigued at her style. We had great discussions on this piece in class. She is brilliant. I wrote a paper on how she was so clever with her weaving of the stereotypes into the piece that one can never really decide who is black and who is white.
I was forever changed. And grateful.
It is amazing that she is full of humility in this interview. Honesty and truth reign.

Jennifer said...

This interview reminds me that there are more positives about aging than we usually consider. I hope I get more creative as I age.

Tiffany said...

I am definitely a fan. Beloved is an incredible book - so hard to read in so many ways, but even now, long after I read it, I still think about it. She is remarkably frank in that interview, especially her comments about regret ... I must go and read the whole thing!

Awesome Sara said...

i have never read a book from her. or maybe i have i have to check my shelf i vaguely remember reading something for lit class

Zuzana said...

I have never heard of her, but I got intrigued by her answers. Very few people admit that they have regrets. She strikes me as a perfectionist.
It would be interesting to read some of her books.;))

Darla said...

Thanks for posting the interview. She's a beautiful person both inside and outside in my opinion. I do know I haven't read her last book tho and this is just the nudge I need to check my online library.


Mardel said...

Thank you for sharing this. I love Morrison's fiction but it is difficult to say which one is my favorite as they have each wrapped me up in the prose and the story and made the whole thing so real, like a treasure. Not a happy treasure per se, but certainly a jewel held close.

The most recent one I read was "A Mercy" a book that truly haunts. The first novel I read was "Beloved". Each of them has burnt itself into my heart.

Maria Killam said...

YOu know what I think is the saddest thing? When people just die in the prime of their creativity and their life, like a designer friend at the age of 50 a few months ago. That's what I think about when I read something like this. Thank you!

aims said...

Toni's writing changed me in some ways and I think that is fantastic. I have read and wept through many of her books. I can't even tell you which one was my favourite - maybe all I've read?

sallymandy said...

Bonnie: her honesty is admirable, isn't it? That's a pretty strong reality check you have, living next to a cemetery.

Pamela: I agree.

FFF: I read A Mercy in the winter. Maybe not my very fave of hers, but her writing is always worth it.

Lola: I loved that particular book, too.

WiW: yes, she's one of a kind.

Doreen: I agree with Lola. Song of Solomon is probably my favorite. Sula was also good.

Ingrid: I thought the same thing. She tells it like it is.

Suecae: yes, you're right.

Lakeviewer: Same thing happened to me. I can't read that book again.

Belette: yes, thank you for the comment about aging and creativity. I didn't mention in the post that she was 77 when this interview was done.

Ms Lucy: my thoughts exactly.

Lori: I guess her books aren't for everyone, but if you appreciate fine use of language, she's really got it.

Thank you, Cynthia. I had never heard of the piece you mentioned. I like your thoughts about her writing as well.

Jennifer: yes, that's an encouraging thought.

Tiffany: yes, you and I and lakeviewer all have some similar thoughts about Beloved.

Sara: I'm sure that basic lit classes these days include her, since she won the Nobel. She was less well known when I was in college.

Protege: Funny but I always assumed everyone would regret something. I've been kind of surprised by these comments about regret. Thank you!

Darla: yes, she is. She's her own person. The interview I excerpted also has some stuff about race and gender, all very interesting.

Mardel: I think you chose good words to describe her books--like "burn" and "haunt." My experiences, too.

Maria: yes, that's true. I never knew until now, closer to 50 than 40, how much more creative time and energy is going to be left after 50. It's something to look forward to.

aims: I have similar feelings. You can't get through a Toni Morrison book and not be moved, I suspect.