Toni Morrison: “Home” | Talks at Google


TORRENCE BOONE: Good afternoon,
everyone. My name is Torrence Boone. I lead Google’s agency business
across the Americas. Please join me in welcoming
Toni Morrison. [APPLAUSE] TONI MORRISON: Thank you. TORRENCE BOONE: Miss Morrison, I
think we’ll dive right in to your new work, “Home.” And how
about you set the stage for us in terms of the inspiration
behind the book, how you came to bring it to all of us. TONI MORRISON: Sure. I was interested in taking the
skin or the scab off of our view of the ’50s in
this country. “I want my country
back,” remember that, in the campaign? Back to where? Back to the ’50s. The ’50s were understood to be
Doris Day and “Leave it to Beaver,” and everybody
was buying houses, and post-war money– nice, comfortable,
American-dream stuff. And I didn’t think so. And I thought, what was
underneath there was something that was being silenced
or ignored. One was the Korean War, which
nobody ever talked about. It wasn’t even called a war. It was called a police action. And we’re still fighting
it, if you recall. There’s somebody up there
with guns on one side, guns on the other. And also there was an
overwhelming anti-Communism McCarthy thing. That was there. It was very strong. And people lost their jobs. Some committed suicide because
of the pressure against Communism, which I guess is what
the war was about anyway. North Korea was Communist
and was going to make South Korea Communist. Same thing with Vietnam. So it was a big anti-Communism
thing. The other thing was, there
was a lot of medical experimentation on
helpless people– prisoners, army people. I think we learned about it a
great deal when we learned how LSD had been used on soldiers
during the Vietnam War to see what effects it had. And then, of course, we learned
what effects it had. But there was a lot of
that even before– prisoners and poor people
and children and so on. And experimentation, you may
not remember, but there was this scandal, in quotes, about
a black school, Tennessee, I think, anyway where
the men who had syphilis were being treated– treated, in quotes. Some of them were treated and
some of them were not. And they didn’t treat them all
because they wanted to see what the disease looked
like as it progressed. So that was one, but there
were lots of others. And particularly in
other countries. So I had some example of that in
“Home” with the girl who’s working for a doctor who was
an inventor, as he puts it. So those were the main themes
that seemed to me to be going on in the ’50s. And I wanted to identify them
by the narrative, having him go through these things so the
reader could get a fresh feel of what it was really like in
the ’50s, despite what your grandmother says. TORRENCE BOONE: So Frank Money,
who’s the protagonist in “Home,” is this incredibly
complex, vividly rendered character. What do you like
most about him? What do you like least
about him? TONI MORRISON: You know,
I didn’t like him. Really. I liked talking to him. You know, when he was talking
to me and telling me to shut up, or I didn’t know what I was
talking about, and so on– that relationship. And he was all right, but
he wasn’t one of those– I tend not to really like
the major characters. I tend to like the little
ones, the little, minor characters, like the woman in
the house where [INAUDIBLE] was, who fed her, the maid– I like her. And she seems complex
and real and lovely. The others are representative
of problems– their problems, the problems. They’re very complex. And they move from one area to
another, from weakness to strength, from ignorance to
knowledge, from A to Z. So in the process, I just want to do
them justice, whenever it is. They’re not good or
bad or fun or not. So I don’t really like them. But I don’t mind being in their
company, because they’re really, really, really
very interesting. TORRENCE BOONE: So I pulled
out a few images, phrases, word constructions throughout
the novel that grab me. And I thought maybe we could do
a little free association, where I would read these to
you, and you could give me your sense of how you came to
bring these words to us, why you chose them, sort
of a window into the creative process. So are you ready? TONI MORRISON: I am. TORRENCE BOONE: Maniac
moonlight, militant sunlight, the malevolent sun, sun’s
violent rays. TONI MORRISON: Yeah. We think about the sunlight
as, ooh, it’s daylight. Ooh, the sun. There’s a big ball
of fire up there. And it’s not going anywhere. And it can be very mean,
or it looks so. So I have to say, in addition to
that, I was trying to make his going home, his
arrival and this little village, wonderful. Because he hated it, he was
bored with it, and he couldn’t wait to get out of there. So now he’s going back–
for a good reason, to save his sister. But I withheld all the color
from the book until he gets close to home. The first time he sees this
girl’s yellow blouse. Then when he gets to home, he
says, I didn’t know these trees were this green. And what about the flowers–
everything is a flame. And that, you could tell it’s a
raggedy little town, right? But that makes the reader feel
the welcome, feel the loveliness, the home
quality there. But some of the harsher aspects
of that trip was militant, metal, and vicious
things that we take for granted as lovely. The point of writing is to
take what’s common and estrange it, make it new again,
and to take what’s strange and familiarize it. It’s a better experience when
language can do that. TORRENCE BOONE: The quiet seemed
to slither, then boom, its weight more theatrical
than noise. TONI MORRISON: Yes. It is more theatrical,
sometimes, than noise, if you’re at a certain mood. And the slither suggests the
threat of being alone and no one’s there, and you’re
in trouble. And then all of a sudden, it’s
like thunder, although you don’t hear it. It’s just an emotional response
to being alone and being afraid. TORRENCE BOONE: “The
Morrison Case.” TONI MORRISON: I think I put
the guy’s name in there. There was a case, this woman
Lily worked in a theater in Seattle in the ’50s during the
heavy anti-Communist thing. So there were all sorts
of plays and things that were banned. And this one almost
got on stage. It was called “The Morrison
Case.” And I checked it with Google to find out exactly. And I found the guy and the
play and everything. Because my editor was saying,
Toni, please, “The Morrison Case?” And I said, well,
that’s the name of it. But I had to go and really make
sure by giving him the first name of the man who wrote
the play in the history of how it was banned. Because they shut that whole
theater down in the book because it was pro-Communist or
Socialist or whatever they were mad at at the time. TORRENCE BOONE: Finally, in
reference to Lily– and this is one of my favorite
references. Frank is obsessed with the
backs of her knees. TONI MORRISON: Well, you know,
when you write about physical attraction, the attraction, and
somebody falling in love or making love, it’s just
so unrelentingly, relentlessly boring. Because first of all, if it’s
too graphic, [SNORES], you just go to sleep. And besides, it’s not my sex
is sexier than yours because it’s mine. So I assume yours is
sexier than mine. So why don’t you do something
different, like associate it with some feeling or– when I wrote “The Beloved,” I
had these guys watching Sethe in a cornfield, making
love to this guy. They can’t see her, but
they can see the tops of the corn waving. And then the language goes on
about how slippery the hair, and how the sound of the husk
when it’s pulled down off the corn cob. So it’s all about corn. And I had a guy say, you know,
I’ll never ever see corn the same way again. And in this one,
the same thing. I know it’s B&B– boobs and butts– but so? But I thought, for him,
particularly, there are other parts of the male body and other
parts of the female body that can pull out a separate, distinctive, peculiar affection. So when she reaches up to put
this stuff up, and he’s looking at her, he sees the
back of her knees, it overwhelms him. Well, something. But I thought that was charming
because it was part as the physique or the body
that nobody pays any attention to ever. You’re going to write
about that. I’ll tell you the great thing–
and this will be the end, because you didn’t
ask me about this. This is a triumph– for me. Nobody cares, but I do. Nobody remembers,
nobody cares. But I have a moment when he– I don’t know what he says. He starts saying, it wasn’t just
the sexual relationship that I was interested in. Anyway, he says, how
do I say this? How do I, or you, say this
without either using profanity or something? So I say, it wasn’t just the
kingdom between her legs. Is that good? If you think about it, the
kingdom between her legs– what is kingdom? Something you attack, mount,
riches, wealth– and it’s just a world
of stuff. So I was telling somebody about
that in a restaurant, this guy who writes. I said, isn’t that wonderful? And he said, eh. TORRENCE BOONE: So your work
takes on these big themes of humanity, things like love and
class and race and politics, identity, among many others. Share with us any conscious
commentary or insight you were trying to shed on these
things with “Home.” TONI MORRISON: Well, “Home,” I
think we mentioned it a little bit earlier at lunch, I was
trying to write a book that, as I said, identified these
social aspects of the ’50s. So I have this vet– we called it shell shock. But the thing is, I never
say he’s black. Now, that may sound
very simple. But I have to tell you, the
language is so loaded, American English, that you
almost have to pry and discover other ways
to say things. So it’s an achievement. I didn’t do it in
the beginning. I did it somewhat in “Paradise”
because I have a bunch of women out there, and
I say, they shot the white girl first, and save the
bullets for the rest. So you go, who is
the white girl– if you’re interested. But I was able to carve language
so that it is not important, not distinguished. And I don’t describe any
of my characters. I mean, a little bit– tall, short, man, woman. But nobody knows what
they look like. And the reason is deliberate. Because I want you to do that,
you to see them, imagine them, underscore them, the same way. And now I’ve gone off and
forgotten your question. TORRENCE BOONE: These big
themes of humanity– TONI MORRISON: Oh, yeah. These big themes. TORRENCE BOONE: Love. TONI MORRISON: Yeah, yeah. TORRENCE BOONE: Class,
race, politics. TONI MORRISON: Yeah,
yeah, yeah. Let’s take love. OK, he finds a safe haven with
this girl in Seattle. But I didn’t want the love– there are all kinds of love. You understand that,
don’t you? There’s national love of your
country, love of your God. It’s not all sexual love. There’s some other stuff. So I wanted a relationship
between a brother and a sister. I wanted a relationship between
a man and a woman that had no baggage– mother, daughter, wife, it’s
always about something else. But with a sister, I thought
even though that might be difficult, it could be
equal, and so on. The opening lines of “Home”
are about his looking at these horses. And he says, they were so
beautiful, so brutal, and they stood like men. So it’s about masculinity. It’s about whatever that
definition is. He found one definition here,
another definition there. But the security, the pride,
the strength, the beauty, really, of manhood is that love
that he encouraged and found when he went home and
took care of someone. He didn’t have to– I mean, it was his sister. But he had to go there, take
care of her, hold her in his arms, take her someplace, and
then stay away because the women wouldn’t let
him in the house. That kind of love– in addition to the backs of
people’s knees, there’s this other stuff. And politics is always there. You could see it in the
confrontation with the doctor who was manipulating her. And the fact that in that little
town, they didn’t have any school or water in– where are they, Georgia? You ever see these
little places? I went down to see one, where
my father was born. It’s– nothing. But anyway, you have to wait to
get fresh water or a water pipe or something in some
of these places. Nevertheless, I wanted
it to be welcoming. And for him, it’s
a safe place. And that’s what home is. Nobody is out to get
you at home. It’s a yearning always. I think that’s why I was telling
a number of people that the French, when they
translated the book, they didn’t have any word for home. The French don’t. No, they have house. They have estate. They have all sorts of
things, but not home. And home is something very
peculiar for Americans. And there’s a yearning in it,
something special, mystical, hopeful, restful. So it’s not even the place. But when one says home– you hear it in songs
all the time– it’s something very special. It has nothing to do with
the way it looks. And that’s what I was hoping
would be the feeling when he arrived there, knowing that– everybody doesn’t like
you in your home. Some people really dislike
you in your home. But no one is going
to hurt you. And everybody is going
to help you, whether they like you or not. And that’s the safety,
the spiritual and physical safety of home. TORRENCE BOONE: That’s
fantastic. So shifting gears a little bit,
around the intersection of creativity and technology– because we’re here at Google. TONI MORRISON: Oh, yes. TORRENCE BOONE: So I think
everyone would love to get a sense of your character
sketch. If Google were to
be a character– TONI MORRISON: A-ha! TORRENCE BOONE: –what
would it look like? what would it do? TONI MORRISON: Well,
I’m not a luddite, but I’m getting better. My son is not saying
anyone, well, Ma– please! Anyway, I think I know exactly
what Google looks like, character-wise. And it’s like those big, metal,
clawy machines in “Transformers.” And they do
this, and they go this. And then when they’re
threatened– they turn into a little radio. Or in one case, they turn
into a little car. And then after you pass them
by, they come up again. I can’t tell you how
I love that movie. Because– I think I was on an airplane
where one of them was going clunk, clunk, clunk. And the stewardess went by, and
he turned into a little radio that they don’t even have
anymore, with little by. That’s Google for me. It could be anything, anything
and everything. TORRENCE BOONE: And how has
technology informed your creative process? You talked about using Google. TONI MORRISON: It shortens
research enormously. Months of time that you would
normally spend in libraries or just trying to read
books and– but this way, it’s really
shortened inquiry. I was telling them earlier
I was looking for– [SCRATCHING], oh, that’s
me; sorry– documentation about who could
not rent or buy property in Seattle in the ’50s. And I knew black people
couldn’t, but I didn’t have any real examples. But via Google, I went through
stuff and found these lease arrangements where they
said, no, Hebraic or Afric, all these– no Hebraic, Afric, Chinese-type
person could rent or buy any property and couldn’t
live there unless they were working there. And that was on the lease. So when I had this character in
Home looking for a place to say, she gets upset because she
can’t buy this house, I didn’t want that to just
be some memory or speculation on my part. So I would use, obviously,
Google and anything for research. It’s very important that way. And I think we were
talking also about writing blogs and things. And I was saying, eh, I haven’t
seen any good fiction writing on blogs. But I have seen very, very good
prose in people who do the really good sharp, smart. It surprised me a little bit. Because when I teach creative
writing, as I did for a long time, at Princeton, I
always was annoyed– when they would turn in their
stories, I could tell that they had typed them
on a computer. I can feel it because
they say too much. And it looks so nice. It’s sort of neat. Because they don’t
write anymore. But I could always feel
that quality. And I thought that that would
pass over into fiction writing in general. I don’t know whether
it has or has not. I suspect it has not. As I see poetry sometimes on it,
which is a suggestion that technology can aid– it’s the editing problem
that’s– the writing is really
just editing. Not just, but almost all of it
is correcting, redirecting, finding the right word, taking
it out, recasting, over and over again until it’s right. And it seems a little hard
on the computer. Because you’re so happy with
what you’re doing. I’ll tell you one thing. You haven’t asked me this, but
I’m a really, really, really good expert typist. And now that I’m
sort of vaguely emailing, I’m doing this– these two fingers. And I thought, wait a minute. I know how to use all my
fingers all the time. So now I have to retrain my
muscle memory on the keyboard to know what’s– I lost it. I know, what do you use? Thumbs, two fingers. I mean, I lost the whole
thing, and I was so good at it. Anyway, technology will help
me in that way too. TORRENCE BOONE: And what about
the implications for the book publishing? TONI MORRISON: No, that’s
going to be great. Oh yeah, that whole thing
is going to be great. I mean, I know people say,
uh, the libraries, what about the books? What about the hardbacks? It’s like when the television
was supposed to ruin radio, it didn’t. Well, I don’t think it did. But anyway, this form, the vinyl
was going to be ruined because of the 8-track. So I think, my personal feeling,
is that the more access to books, the better. Really, I was involved with
some people who were doing that instant printing
thing, Espresso, I think they called it. Because they could take it to
Africa, and you could have one copy, and the whole village
could read it. Because books in Africa
cost a month’s salary. So this way it was easy. And access via the screens and
via ebooks, wherever they come from, seem to me to
be a good thing. Now, you don’t have to. I have read books on ebooks. There’s certain books I can’t. If they’re really, really
complicated and really, really interesting, I can’t. Because I want to write all
over them and do stuff. They say, yeah, you
can do that. Yeah, well. But there are other books that
I do like very much to read in that way. So I think it’s an
improvement. TORRENCE BOONE: We’re live
streaming this event. And even in the audience
here, I know we have people who are– TONI MORRISON: You’re
live streaming this? TORRENCE BOONE: Yes. Did we not tell you that? TONI MORRISON: I thought that
was later on with– TORRENCE BOONE: Well, we’re
going to do that as well. TONI MORRISON: You heard
me say all that– oh– about corn and stuff. Oh! [APPLAUSE] TORRENCE BOONE: So there are
many writers and aspiring writers who are listening in,
and even in the audience. And I know this is a question
that you weren’t fond of, but you had such an amazing way of
answering it informally when we were having lunch, so I’m
going to ask you anyway. And that is, what advice would
you give to aspiring writers who want to accomplish even
a fraction of what you’ve accomplished? TONI MORRISON: Well my shorter
answer that I gave him was, you write the, and then
see what happens. If that doesn’t work– I tell my students, they’re
young, like many of you. And I say, look, I don’t
want to hear about your little lives. I’m not interested. Besides, you don’t
know nothing. You have a boyfriend. Your grandmother did this. Your mother– ah! No. I want you to imagine something
way out of the box. And I taught a course
twice about this. First, I told them, we’re going
to write about slavery– you are. Not American slavery. I’m talking about all kinds
of slavery, all kinds. So a girl came up with eunuchs,
what happens to them, and how they are enslaved, and
how they have to have their genitals in a box that must
accompany them when they die. One wrote about the Turks and
whoever they were fighting, the Moors, or something. One person wrote about
American slavery. Other people wrote about
all different kinds– and with characters. And I said, after you write
this, I’m going to have somebody from the art department
come in and tell you how to draw or paint
or something. Because we’re going to have an
exhibition, and the person who does the art is going to
be not you but the character you invented. And that happened. I mean, the ones who were good
painters wrote stupid stories but painted beautifully. And the ones that couldn’t draw
a straight line wrote great stories, and they’re like,
this is a dumb painting. But anyway, they were two art
forms that we put together. We had the thing, and I did
that a couple of times. But the point was, the second
time, a girl wrote about a woman in Texas who was a
waitress, but who couldn’t speak English. Actually, it was when she
was a dishwasher, trying to be a waitress. But she had to learn English. And she used the menu and those
little doilies around in order to write, and so on. It was really interesting. Somebody else did a thing
about a woman who was an ancient mistress of
somebody in Paris. So the point of all of this
was, step outside. You don’t know anything about
this little girl in Texas, so create her. Really create something. Don’t go back and say, well,
when I was in high school, there was this guy. Yeah. So that was really the most
successful thrust of teaching creative writing after all these
many, many years of just editing, is what I was
doing, mostly. They turn in something, and I
make it better, or suggest they make it better. Then I stopped that and began
to tell them, do this. That was part of the Atelier
we were talking. TORRENCE BOONE: At
Princeton, yes. Say more about that, because
that was a new collaborative model that you built. TONI MORRISON: Well, about 20
years ago, in my 60s, in my young 60s, I was going to
retire from Princeton. And they said, oh, no, no, no. And I was trying to say, if I
stay here, what would I really like to do? I don’t want to do
this anymore. And so I thought, none of us in
the arts department bring our work to class. We do that at home, whether
we’re writers or poets or photographers or
theatre people. What we do in the class
is whatever the students are doing. And we evaluate,
encourage that. And then they get
a pass or fail. And I thought, why don’t I bring
artists in who do that for a living? It’s not about pass or fail,
it’s about confronting somebody who is a professional
writer or a professional lyricist or a professional
dancer, and let those people work with the students
on a project. And it’s not entirely equal,
but it’s close. So American Ballet Theatre came,
the choreographer came. And he brought some of the
dancers from ABT and some of the Princeton dancers– who thought they were dancers,
or they used to be dancers. You know, the ABT girls
don’t go to college. They just study dance. And the Princeton girls
go to college and used to be dancers. So they were very, like– ugh. But on stage, they could
not go en pointe. I mean, you have
to keep going. But the girls from ABT,
they were 18. But they were the ones who
could toe dance, as we used to call it. And I brought– Yo Yo Ma came, all sorts of
people came to work on projects that were theirs. And the students helped
or changed. I had Richard Price came. He was doing a movie. And he had a horrible scene. I mean, it wasn’t a
horrible scene. It was just long, long, long. And he couldn’t fix it. So he brought it and asked
students to act it out for him, so he could see what was
too much and what was not enough, and so on. But it varied. And it’s still going on
there, by the way. It was, for me, the most
exciting thing that I had done in that area. Because I didn’t want to
confine it to writing. I wanted it to be all
sorts of things. We bought sculptures and
painters from galleries. And I taught a course with
Gabriel Marquez. It was called Narrative. He spoke a little
bit of English. I spoke a very little
bit of Spanish. The only people who were fluent
in both languages were the students. And we actually taught a
semester class, back and forth, back and forth, about
how to construct narrative. It was beautiful. I was mostly quiet, but it was
a magnificent thing to see. They had the students there,
listening to someone– and if you know Marquez’s work,
there’s nobody better at constructing a complicated
structural novel than he is. TORRENCE BOONE: We’re going to
open it up to questions. So if anyone in the audience has
questions, make your way to the mikes. On this theme, inspiration,
where do you get inspiration now? Not only for your writing,
but life in general. TONI MORRISON: Life in general
is not so interesting anymore. [BLOWS NOSE] Excuse me. Notice, I’m sick, but
I came anyway. TORRENCE BOONE: Thank you. [APPLAUSE] TONI MORRISON: I’m
a little leery of that inspiration stuff. I don’t need it. I know what to do. And I know how to do it. And I don’t like the world
when I’m not doing it. When I’m not writing, ugh! And just aware of some good
stuff, but mostly not. The way people who have lived
as long as I have– so that it’s a little
problematic for me. But if I get an idea, like I
have in every book I’ve ever written, some compelling idea
that has some kind of meaning, and then I can pluck characters
who could explicate that for me– and then the whole world
is such a lovely place. I cannot begin to tell you
how fascinating and how overwhelming and lovely
it is to be here. I can’t tell you. I’d hate to leave. Yes? AUDIENCE: I wanted to know some
of the artists’ works of art that you’ve read or are
reading currently or seen or experiencing that’s touching
you now and making you glad to be here. TONI MORRISON: Well, a lot
of music, I think. Which is interesting,
because I don’t play music when I’m writing. I don’t ever use it as
background, like something– I have to either listen to
it or not listen to it. But recently, particularly when
I get stuck, as I have been recently, the music breaks
it open for me, the kinds of music that I like. AUDIENCE: Hi. I had to write my question down
because I was so nervous talking to you. TONI MORRISON: Oh, please. AUDIENCE: When I think of your
novels, I think of intricate plots that are often
unpredictable, colors that become characters, and prose
that often reads like poetry. For all of these reasons, when
a friend asked for a recommendation just the other
day, I immediately recommended both “Beloved” and the “The
Bluest Eye,” as I had just finished rereading
them myself. She said she doesn’t like to
read your novels because of the graphic violence
and rape scenes. And I didn’t know how to
defend them to her. How would you respond? TONI MORRISON: Tell
her to read Homer. [APPLAUSE] TONI MORRISON: Speaking
of violence and rape. TORRENCE BOONE: Scott? AUDIENCE: I have to admit– I’m sure my mom’s actually
really jealous. She’s a high school educator,
and she loves teaching your writing to her students. And I think she shared her love
of your words with me, so thank you for the opportunity. I’m curious if you ever, in
newer novels or newer writing or in between books, find times
where your characters are either recycled into new
characters or interact with new characters and how that
process, at least, probably is up in your brain, and how
that feels and looks– if that happens at
all, I suppose. TONI MORRISON: The strong ones
you have to get rid of fast. And I don’t remember using
aspects of one character in another character
in another book. I’m fearful because
in a sense– writers say this, and
nobody knows what they’re talking about– the characters talk to you. And you have to know
their names. They’re like ghosts. And you have to introduce
yourself so they’ll talk. And you get the right name. But they don’t shut up. They’re only interested
in themselves. And I have had characters that
I’ve just slammed the door. Like Pilate in– TORRENCE BOONE: “Song
of Solomon.” TONI MORRISON: “Song of
Solomon–” she was eating up the book. So I had people talk
about her. And then every now and
then, there would be a scene with her. But not just to do that, because
as I was telling you this morning, I don’t really
like these characters, because they just take over. And if you let them, you will
let what many authors do do, which is, you keep writing them
in the next book and the next book– different scenes, different
narratives, same character. And I don’t mean just the
detective story-types. But you’re still writing about
that same character? Although now it’s a 10-year-old
girl or a 50-year-old man, but it’s still
the same character. And I just have to get rid
of it, slam it, because otherwise, you’re always back
there, always back there. For me, it’s a big effort
to write brand new. Every time I sit down to write,
it’s like I’ve never written anything ever before. It’s a brand new thing. Yes? AUDIENCE: Thank you. Ms. Morrison, do you think of
yourself as a female writer? Is that something that you’re
aware of, in terms of not only what you’re writing and your
responsibility to your sex, but also in terms of how you’re
received and how other authors who are female
authors are received? TONI MORRISON: Well, I have done
that, in the beginning– because I was in publishing
when I first wrote a book. So I made it very important
that I was a black female, underscore, underscore. And they were trying to say– I remember going to an event. And a friend of my doctor,
who I think it was, was introducing me. He said, Toni Morrison
is wonderful. And she writes beautiful. I don’t think of her
as a black writer. I don’t think of her
as a female writer. I think of her as– and he paused– and I said, a white
male writer? So with all those definitions in
there, you don’t know which ones to push, and so on. Recently, as I talked to you
about withholding race, is to try to be like a human
being writer type. But I do know that in
the books, I have withdrawn white men. I never write about them. And the reason is not that
they’re not there in the world and important– it’s just that they
get in the way. Always the gays– I just don’t want that
so I can be free. Like in Desdemona, we were
saying earlier, that I wrote this thing with Peter Sellers,
I said, I will only write it if you take Iago out. If he’s out of the play,
we can go forward. Because he just takes over the
play, talks all the time. Everybody lies to him or
misrepresents something. I’m sorry, that was
a simple question. AUDIENCE: Hi. So you talked a little bit about
teaching writing, which has been really interesting. And I wanted to know how you
feel about this somewhat new format we have these days called
the writing workshop, where you submit a story and
the entire class critiques. TONI MORRISON: Oh. Yeah, that’s what they do. I mean, I used to do that at
Princeton, when I was telling you about the things,
choosing– it’s a strange subject. They had to read in class. And everybody around them could
say horrible, nice, wonderful, I love it, I hate
it, what about this. So they got that feedback
constantly. And they could either
do it or not do it. It’s like having 15 editors
tell you what’s wrong, or what’s beautiful, and me,
controlling it all. But that workshop thing was very
much part of the creative writing classes that I
taught at Princeton. And it works, particularly with
new writers, and they’re not quite sure. And they need the comments and
critique of their peers. Yeah. AUDIENCE: Hi. How do you judge
your own work? How do you know when it’s
finished, when it’s right? And then how do you take
criticism after that? TONI MORRISON: Well,
I always know. I always know when to stop. I’ve thought it out so carefully
from the beginning to the end. I always know the end, how it’s
shaped, what it means, and all the themes
are in the end. The problem is getting there,
how to get there, what the middle is like. And if I can find it that way,
then I know I’m finished, and I know it’s good. The couple of times I
have not done that, in a couple of books– I made mistakes. I was judging the characters
instead of representing them. And that’s not my job, to say,
your bad, you’re good. So that’s that. The criticism– well, all the bad criticism
is bad and untrue. And all the good criticism
is by brilliant people. But as writers, as most people,
you remember the bad. You remember, ugh, 1942,
remember that? You said– No, no, no. You’ve got to take it. Was there someone over there? AUDIENCE: So thanks
for being here. TONI MORRISON: Where
is the person? AUDIENCE: Hiding down here. So you talked a little bit
about your thoughts about technology and writing. And you sounded pretty
optimistic about it, which I’m really happy to here. But I did read something the
other day, of Philip Roth, saying that he thought it was
like a false nostalgia for the idea that there was a golden age
of serious fiction, that he was worried that these days,
with all the demands on people’s attention, let’s say–
there’s always a cell phone ringing, there’s always
a new email you just got– that basically he was worried
that to sustain the attention that you need to enjoy a good
book and a good read is going away and is going to be lost. And I’m wondering how
you feel about that. TONI MORRISON: I think the alarm
that he describes, I would share. Except it’ll change. It’s like, everybody’s
on cell phones– that’s not going
to be forever. Nothing is. The one thing that really
has lasted is books. Even those ones on wood– I think that he is sorry that
things are changing and that he may not be able to
change with it. And I understand that
feeling of sorrow. Other authors feel that way
also, that they’re fighting up against something that they
don’t understand, and they can’t participate in,
and what about the good old days, when– so I’ve never been
afraid of that. I don’t think it’ll
ever disappear– books, whether they’re
hardcover, softcover, ebooks, books in the sky– they’ll be there. They’ll be on your
watches, right? So I think it’ll be around,
because the hunger for narrative is as old
as the human life. Everything is a story. Everything is art. There is no drive, no country,
no age in which people did not make art– where there was a line in the
sand, [INAUDIBLE], or painting on a cave, or dancing, or
singing, or painting their faces, or putting on costumes. Human beings have always done
that, decorated it. Maybe it wasn’t as sophisticated
as tattoos are, but they could’ve been. It’s there. And the hunger for stories is
permanent, eternal, and it will never go away. Never. It’s like food– which might go away. AUDIENCE: Hi. I have two questions. The first one is pertaining
to this work, Home. I was wondering if there were
any parallels between this work and your other work, in
“The Foreigner’s Home,” whether one work inspired
the other, and which one came first. And then the second one is
about the anti-Communism sentiments in the 1900s
up to the 1950s. And in your own words, the
destruction of Capitalism in current times– what do you think is– TONI MORRISON: Pretty good. AUDIENCE: Paraphrased. TONI MORRISON: The death
of Capitalism, yes. Go right ahead. Go on. AUDIENCE: What do you think
of the sentiments of the sentiments towards Communism and
Socialism in the current day, or the change of both
Capitalism and Communism and the way they are accepted
into modern-day society. TONI MORRISON: What was
your first question? AUDIENCE: It was about “Home”
and “The Foreigner’s Home.” TONI MORRISON: Ah, yeah. Well, I did this thing
at the Louvre– about six weeks of stuff. And I used an expanded
Atelier. But “The Foreigner’s Home” for
me was, who is the foreigner? There are countries in which the
people who live there are foreign, have been
made foreign. Think of countries in Africa– that’s where they live, that’s
their home, but with colonialism, they become
strangers and foreigners in their own home. And also, the movement of
peoples across the seas and rivers, now, is greater
than it has ever been. So the idea of home was mixed
and confusing and disturbing. And I had used a painting by
Gericault called “The Raft of the Medusa,” which was a
painting of a raft that had been cut loose by some slavers,
and they were all lower-class people. And they were supposed to
drown, and they didn’t. And some of them died, and
they ate each other. Whatever. But there was this one figure
at the top, pointing toward the ship that he thinks
is coming. But they were cut loose, and
they were floating on the sea, waiting for help, refugees. And they were from all
sorts of countries. And I used that in
the [INAUDIBLE] as a kind of a theme for what
home meant, or is becoming to mean, when people are in huge
refugee camps or in prisons in other countries, or were run
out of things– so that the whole notion of home is far more
complex than it ever was when people were just
immigrants, going from A to B and so on. And you said something about
Capitalism and Socialism– and I don’t know. I think raw Capitalism,
predatory Capitalism is predatory and is bad. It doesn’t have to
be that way. It can be moral. Although I don’t think the
profit motive helps– but there are instances. Every now and then, you see a
huge corporation do something, I should say, Google-y,
something important. It’s not all downhill. Thank you. TORRENCE BOONE: Final
question. AUDIENCE: Hi. So there are a number of
passages in “Home” where I found myself mentally
transporting my perspective backwards decades because of the
scenery and the situations you were describing. I’m thinking, this must
be the 1880s. And there will be, the next
sentence is, and she’d love to watch “I Love Lucy.” And I’m
like, oh my god, this wasn’t that long ago. So I had the effect,
I guess, you were going for on me, certainly. I had this connection– it’s
not that long ago. And so my question is, you say
that we didn’t do a very good job in the ’50s of representing
what was actually happening in our media. And so, is that inevitable,
you think, over time? Or are we doing a better
or worse job today? TONI MORRISON: That period is
being described more exactly by other writers now. [INAUDIBLE] wrote a wonderful
book called– I don’t know what
it was called– about that. And Jane Smiley has a
character in there. So that period is being
written about and paid attention to by really, really
first-rate writers the way I thought it hadn’t been before. The second part of
your question– AUDIENCE: The second part is,
are we making the same mistakes today? I’m sure we are, but
I wondered if you could talk about it. TONI MORRISON: Today– I don’t understand today. I’m writing a book about– it’s not like the ’50s
or the ’20s. It’s more recent. I’m having an awful time. Because I don’t really
understand– I don’t have the fabric yet. I’m trying. But there’s something very
different and elusive about contemporary culture. You understand that all
of our periods have been defined by war– all of them. War is about the acquisition
of wealth or land, period. And then somehow, it’s not
about any of that. Somebody can tell me what
World War I was about. You don’t know. They said, well, this one– they
were all family members. The queen was related to the
German who was related to the Kaiser and– so World War II, that
was important. That was a real serious,
we got to stop. Everything else is not, it’s
about something else. So my thing is, my feeling– there is a lot of war,
I don’t know if– is that war is language,
meaning. They treat it like
it’s a movie. When is it going to be over? When is the end? We talk about it like it’s
a theater in the press. We’ve been there 10 long years–
nobody asked that question in World War II– when is it going to be over? It was over when they stopped. So I think there’s a whole
different thing. And there’s a resistance
toward war. People are not enthusiastic
about it. Yay, let’s go invade,
or something. It seems to me not so
thrilling an idea. Apparently there’s something
else to do. I think the drone thing is a
sign of people withdrawing from death and destruction,
and so on. Although they say, well,
you killed an American. What about that? And Americans who gave up their
citizenship in World War II were shot because they joined
the enemy, and they were understood to
be the enemy. Nobody said, where’s
your passport? Are you an America or not? Well, anyway, I don’t
want to go on. But the point is that there
is a big change. I can’t even grasp it. I don’t know if war is the only
entrance, but for me, it seems that the culture’s
changed. A whole bunch of things that
seemed permanent 20 years ago are not anymore. And the attitude toward war is
one of the changes, although we may still be involved
in some aspect of them. But it’s narrower. Otherwise, I’m going to
look to you to tell me what’s going on. TORRENCE BOONE: Miss Morrison,
thank you. TONI MORRISON: You’re welcome. [APPLAUSE]

42 thoughts on “Toni Morrison: “Home” | Talks at Google

  1. I love Toni Morrison's work. I am currently reading about 4 books of hers, one after the other of course and I am enjoying it. I really loved seeing how down to earth she is.

    -Torrence Boone- Great job interviewing and my god, so sexy. I know I have a chance with him now and that makes me sooo happy. 🙂 and yes,even if that sounded creepy, we are all entitled to one creep moment a lifetime lol.

  2. The children's story about what took place in history concerning what it looked like, it felt like, it was like back in the day when we were becoming a people was brilliant and on time and congratulations on seeing the need and getting it done!  love

  3. I love listening to Morrison's interviews – each one grants knowledge to anyone curious enough to listen. But jeez that's a hard task with that hunk of man meat sitting next to her. XD

  4. Please, who has already read the novel HOME? I'd like to know your impressions, opinion, your point of view about this book. Who can help?

  5. Hello, my love. Why couldn't we stop the government from slandering Communism? We sit on our hands until things get way out of hand. Thank you for your narrative HOME.

  6. She is brilliant, charming, witty, funny, and beautiful. Not just a physical beauty although it’s obvious but a beauty that’s internal. A light that radiates within her. I just want to hug her. I love Toni Morrison!

  7. Very Good Heart felt Review. I didn't know anything about this person until today and I'm aof the same so called Race who grew up at that time 70's etc, Unfortunate.

  8. RIP 👑🏅🌹The Great Toni Morrison GOD Bless Her n Receive Her🕊wish I could've taken at least one class from Her those of You Chosen to be her students have been Blessed…Such A Treasure 💎to Those who Love Good READING, Writing,Knowledge n Wisdom…Condolences to Her Family,Friends,Students n Fans🌹

  9. Started this novel the day before she passed and just finished it. I'm just floored by the timelessness of her work and the freshness of her perceptions. How she associates and plays with the known to bring us somewhere new. What a blessing it is to read her work.

  10. I've never even realized until she pointed it out here that she doesn't really describe her characters appearance that much bc I've never had a problem not seeing them. I have always saw them so vibrantly in my mind. I am a white female and my mother introduced her to me when I was around 14 and I have been in love ever since.

  11. Derivatives of some artist works allowing the imagination to complete facial expression adding emotional effects.

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