Beautiful conversation between Junot Diaz and Toni Morrison at the New York Public Library.
Morrison on unlocking books:
I always felt that the narrative that African Americans, particularly political ones, told — if they were manipulated by or in the hands of mainstream publishing — it was going to automatically be restrained… It’s sort of like Frederick Douglass and those slave stories. You can feel them withholding because they’re writing for abolitionists and they don’t want to upset them too much. And that gaze and that control, to me, is obvious.
It’s even there in some African American fiction where I can feel that gaze. That they’re really not talking to me. If you write a book and call it invisible man, invisible to who? Not me.
Beloved and mothers:
At the time – this book came out in ’83 or something – but at that time, women who were being progressive and trying to knock down barriers and crack open ceilings, they were intonating that one of the things that would make a woman free was to not have children. Therefore, she should be able to have access to abortion. And that was understood to be freedom.
And I was thinking just the opposite. I never felt more free in my life until I had children. They were just the opposite of a burden…
But for black women, enslaved, to have a child that you were responsible for, that was really yours, that was really freedom. Because they took those children. You didn’t have children. You may have produced them, but they weren’t yours. They could be sold. Were sold. To be a mother was the unbelievable freedom.
So when Margaret Garner cut that girl’s neck, she was saying ‘this child is mine.’ And to claim her, even if it had to go and become bloody. Nevertheless that was the freedom, that was the ability, that was the mothering.
On her characters:
I expect them to give it up. I mean, who do they think they are? I’m writing so, come on. I notice that if I don’t have their names right, they don’t talk, but if I get their names right, they are very talkative. I understand them completely and they sortof understand what the job is. So it’s an intimate relationship and I’m more grateful than surprised.