Toni Morrison does not need the barrage of publicity accompanying the publication of her latest novel God Help the Child. She will sell bookstores full with or without the hype. But the multiple interviews and commentaries offer a portrait of a woman who is still searching for new and varied ways to look at the world – as an African American, as a woman, and most of all as a human being.
Maddie Oatman’s essay “Toni Morrison Knows All About the ‘Little Drop of Poison’ “ in Mother Jones provides insight into how the woman approaches her art. Aspiring writers should most definitely read her discussion of the writing process.
As I was writing this post the NYTimes ran a short piece on one of the two movie versions of Imitation of Life, which portrays mother-daughter relationships, one fraught because the mother is dark skinned and the daughter light enough to pass. I’m wondering if God Help the Child is a reverse version of that same story.
Best quotes from the Mother Jones piece:
My editor suggested that I change a two-book contract to one novel and a memoir. And I said okay, and then I thought, “I don’t think so.” A memoir? What’s interesting is the invention, the creative thing. Writing about myself was a yawn.
Even when you think you’ve had a wonderful childhood, I suspect there’s always some little drop of poison—that you can get rid of, but sometimes it just trails in the blood and it determines how you react to other people and how you think.
Morrison also revealed that she adores One Hundred Years of Solitude, a book that mesmerized me. Knowing her opinion serves as major reinforcement that the greats of the world can include ghosts in their Nobel works.
A much longer piece in the April 12 NYTimes Mag suffered by comparison. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah is stumped (her word) that Morrison says, “It is very important to me that my work be African-American.” The interviewer asks her first? And Morrison says, “Oh, yes.” I re-read that paragraph, stumped that someone apparently so familiar with Morrison’s work would be surprised at the response.
The article tries to cover a vast territory without a coherent theme. We go from Morrison doing an audio recording, to a bit of her literary history, to a limited analysis of the canon, to biography, to the lack of diversity in publishing (especially among Pulitzer winners), and on and on. Toni Morrison’s readers don’t need this barrier between them and her wisdom.