Jill Krementz Photo Journal – Toni Morrison at B&N

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Toni Morrison
Barnes & Noble, 33 East 17th Street near Park Ave
Wednesday, August 19th at 7 PM
First Published on Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In Conversation with Michele Norris, host of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. At this special event, Nobel-Prize winning author Toni Morrison will discuss her latest novel, A Mercy, a story about slavery in seventeenth-century America that follows a slave girl after she is taken from her mother and sent to work at a Northern farm.

This novel was reviewed by David Gates for the front page of The New York Times Book Review; November 30th, 2008.

I take control of my characters. They are very carefully imagined. I feel as though I know all there is to know about them, even things I don’t write—like how they part their hair. They are like ghosts. They have nothing on their minds but themselves and they aren’t interested in anything but themselves. So you can’t let them write your book for you.
Toni Morrison at her desk at Random House where she worked as an editor. While she was there, Holt published The Bluest Eye. Her colleagues did not realize she had written the book until they saw the reviews.
Front jacket of Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, published in 1970 by Holt. The hardcover edition was priced at $5.95.
Toni Morrison (right) outside her Random House Office (which was then on 50th Street) with her younger son, Slade, and Angela Davis.

While I was a Random House I never said I was a writer. First of all, they didn’t hire me to do that. They didn’t hire me to be one of them. Secondly, I think they would have fired me. There were no in-house editors who wrote fiction. Ed Doctorow quit.

Angela Davis and Toni Morrison taking a stroll. March 28, 1974.

Teaching at Yale University …

On her way to Yale where she taught creative writing. April 14, 1974.
There is a certain kind of peace that is not merely the absence of war. It is larger than that. The peace I am thinking of is not at the mercy of history’s rule, nor is it a passive surrender to the status quo. The peace I am thinking of is the dance of an open mind when it engages another equally open one—an activity that occurs most naturally, most often in the reading/writing world we live in.

When I teach creative writing, I always speak about how you have to learn to read your work; I don’t mean enjoy it because you wrote it. I mean, go away from it, and read it as though it is the first time you’ve ever seen it. Critique it that way. Don’t get involved in your thrilling sentences and all that.

At home in Spring Valley, NY

In fiction, I feel the most intelligent and the most free, and the most excited, when my characters are fully invented people. That’s part of the excitement. If they’re based on somebody else, in a funny way it’s an infringement of a copyright. That person owns his life, has a patent on it. It shouldn’t be available for fiction.
Recently I was talking to a writer who described something she did whenever she moved to her writing table. I don’t remember exactly what the gesture was — there is something on her desk that she touches before she hits the computer keyboard — but we began to talk about little rituals that one goes through before beginning to write. I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark — it must be dark — and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come. And she said, well, that’s a ritual. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space that I can only call nonsecular …. Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.
With her son Slade at her home in Spring Valley, NY. April 17, 1978.

Awards and speeches …

In 1978, Toni Morrison won the National Book Critics Circle fiction award for her book, Song of Solomon, published by Knopf.
On hand to celebrate, her son Ford and her editor, Bob Gottlieb.
Edwidge Danticat and Toni Morrison at a Barnes and Noble event honoring the late writer, Toni Cade Bambara. December 12, 1991.
Toni Morrison, a trustee of The New York Public Library, gives a public reading in Bryant Park. The event was presented by the Library’s Public Education program. She was introduced by Paul LeClerc, President of the Library. September 12, 1994.
Morrison with writer, Fran Lebowitz and Paul LeClerc.
L. to r.: Walter Mosley presenting Toni Morrison with the 1996 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. November 6, 1996; Toni Morrison with her eldest son, Harold Ford and his guest.

Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved. Contact Jill Krementz here

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