Writing While Black (Words from Toni Morrison)

 

I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don’t know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That’s what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say ‘people,’ that’s what I mean.   

– from Conversations with Toni Morrison

I deeply understand Toni’s frustration.  Writing from one’s own truth/perspective/history is the surest way to resonate with readers from all walks of life.  I myself have felt deeply moved by authors whom I have little in common with – Edith Wharton, George Orwell, Charles Dickens, John Keats, etc.  From their hearts they wrote their stories, not mine.  Yet their words spoke to me, a black girl from Ohio (like Toni), in meaningful ways that still resonate today.  Similarly, Toni Morrison, Richard wright, and countless other black writers do an exceptional job of tapping into their introspective selves to tell their story in a way that resonates with a multitude of readers.  Why, then, are they asked to write “universally”?

Thoughts?

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