Toni Morrison on Ritual and Writing

toni morrison

Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning author Toni Morrison is known for her novels which explore the good, the evil, and the love in human souls. She has written numerous novels including The Bluest Eye (1970), Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987), and most recently Home (2010). She has also written children’s books The Big Box and The Ant or The Grasshopper and an opera Margaret Garner. When one of her books was banned from a high school library she was editor for Ban this Book a collection of essays on censorship.

The following excerpt is from a Paris Review interview by Elissa Schapell, Fall 1993.

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 expect to make the contact, 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.

I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?

Toni Morrison Society

An Evening with Toni Morrison


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