Toni Morrison

November 19, 2014 - Toni Morrison 11/19/2014 Views: 137,271

Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison shares her thoughts on race and describes what motivated her to become a writer. (7:10)

( CHEERS AND APPLAUSE )>> Stephen: WELCOME BACK

EVERYBODY.

MY GUEST TONIGHT HAS WON THENOBEL PRIZE AND THE PRESIDENTIAL

MEDAL OF FREEDOM. WELL I WON THEEMMY OF LIBERTY

PLEASE WELCOME TONI MORRISON.

( CHEERS AND APPLAUSE )MISS MORRISON, THANK YOU SO MUCH

FOR BEING HERE.

A PLEASURE TO SEE YOU.

TONI MORRISON, HOW ARE YOU?

>> I'M FINE.

I'M FINE.

>> Stephen: IT'S A PLEASURE.

PLEASURE.

>> I'M VERY HAPPY TO BE HERE.

>> Stephen: I'M VERY HAPPY TOHAVE YOU.

>> CAN I READ YOUR QUESTIONS?

( APPLAUSE ).

>> Stephen: WOULD YOU LIKE TOREAD MY QUESTIONS?

>> YES.

>> Stephen: YES.

( LAUGHTER )>> "YOU'VE WON THE PULITZER AND

NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE."

>> Stephen: NOT YET, BUT IHOPE TO.

( LAUGHTER )I WILL NOT BE AMBUSHED!

BUT THAT'S A GOOD POINT.

YOU HAVE WON THE PULITZER PRIZEAND THE NOBEL PRIZE IN

LITERATURE.

THAT IS LIKE THE ROCK 'N' ROLLHALL OF FAME OF BOOKS.

( CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ).

LET'S GO THROUGH SOME OF THEBOOKS YOU HAVE WRITTEN.

"THE BLUEST EYE."

"BELOVED."

"SONG OF SOLOMON," "SULA," AMONGOTHERS.

WHAT IS THE WEIGHT YOU FEEL, ORIS THERE ANY WEIGHT, ANY BURDEN

BEING A NOBEL PRIZE WINNER INLITERATURE?

YOU KNOW, THAT'S-- THAT'SHEMINGWAY.

THAT'S DORIS LESSING, THAT'SYOU.

DO YOU FEEL WORTHY?

( LAUGHTER )>> I KNOW THAT MY BOOKS ARE

WORTHY.

WHICH IS SEPARATE FROM ME.

( CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ).

AND THAT'S-- THAT'S THE PARTTHAT I REALLY RELISH, THAT PART.

NO, I-- ACTUALLY, I READ"BELOVED" A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO.

>> Stephen: YOUR OWN BOOK.

YOU READ YOUR OWN BOOK.

>> I READ MY BOOK.

>> Stephen: HAD YOU READ ITSINCE YOU WROTE IT?

>> NO. I NEVER READ THEM AFTERI FINISH THEM

UNLESS I'M READING IT PUBLICLYWHEN SOMEONE SAYS "WOULD YOU

READ PART OF YOUR BOOK?" BUT IREAD IT A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO.

>> Stephen: AND?

>> IT'S REALLY GOOD.

( LAUGHTER )>> Stephen: BRAVA.

THAT IS GREAT.

I'M A HUGE FAN OF MY WORK,TOO.

WERE YOU SURPRISED HOW GOOD YOURBOOK WAS?

>> AT THAT TIME, I MEAN, IT'SBEEN YEARS-- WHAT, 80s OR

SOMETHING?

WHEN WAS THAT BOOK PUBLISHED?

>> Stephen: I DON'T KNOW.

I'VE NEVER READ ANYTHING YOU'VEWRITTEN.

( LAUGHTER ).

>> I THINK IT WAS IN THE 80s.

BUT SOMEONE SENT ME A COPY ANDSAID WOULD I AUTOGRAPH IT AND I

WAS LOOKING FOR A PAGE AND IHAPPENED TO OPEN IT UP AT THE

BEGINNING OF THE BOOK.

AND I LOOKED DOWN, AND THEREWERE THESE SENTENCES, THESE

INCREDIBLE, BEAUTIFUL, LYRIC,STRAIGHT AND POWERFUL SENTENCES.

SO I JUST KEPT READING.

IT HAD BEEN A LONG, LONG TIME.

>> Stephen: WAS THERE ANYPOINT IN READING YOUR OWN POINT

THAT YOU THOUGHT I WOULD HAVEDONE SOMETHING DIFFERENTLY.

I REALLY SHANKED THAT SENTENCE.

WOULD YOU TEMPTED TO DO AREWRITE AT ALL?

>> THERE ARE BOOKS I THINK ICOULD DO A LITTLE BIT OVER.

THE FIRST BOOK I WROTE, "THEBLUEST EYE", IS ONE OF THE BOOKS

WHERE I THINK I MADE A FAIRLYSUBSTANTIAL MISTAKE IN NOT

DOING JUSTICE TO ONE OF THECHARACTERS.

IT WAS A CHARACTER I DIDN'TLIKE.

IT WAS A KIND OF -->> Stephen: WELL, THAT WILL

DO IT.

( LAUGHTER )AND I NEVER PAID HER CLOSE

ATTENTION.

>> Stephen: YOU HAVE SAID YOUDON'T NECESSARILY LIKE TO BE

PIGEONHOLED AS AN AFRICANAMERICAN WRITER.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE ME TOPIGEONHOLE YOU AS?

BECAUSE I HAVE TO CATEGORIZEEVERYBODY.

DO YOU WANT TO BE, YOU KNOW,PIGEONHOLED AS A KOREAN POP

STAR?

HOW SHOULD I SEE YOU AS ACATEGORY?

IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE ANAFRICAN AMERICAN WRITER, HOW

SHOULD I THINK OF YOU?

>> AS AN AMERICAN WRITER.

>> Stephen: AS AN AMERICANWRITER.

( CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ).

YOU THINK I'M-- I DON'T-- I-- IDON'T SEE RACE.

OKAY.

I'VE-- I'VE EVOLVED BEYONDRACISM, ALL RIGHT.

I DON'T SEE RACE.

I DON'T EVEN SEE MY OWN.

PEOPLE TELL ME I'M WHITE AND IBELIEVE THEM BECAUSE I HAVEN'T

READ ANY OF YOUR BOOKS.

( LAUGHTER )CAN I, AS A WHITE MAN,

UNDERSTAND THE AFRICAN AMERICANEXPERIENCE?

>> YOU HAVE TO KNOW SOMETHINGABOUT RACISM.

>> Stephen: BUT THEN, WOULDN'TI BE A RACIST IF I THOUGHT ABOUT

RACISM?

>> PERHAPS, BUT MORE IMPORTANTTHAN THAT IS THERE IS NO SUCH

THING AS RACE.

NONE.

>> Stephen: REALLY?

>> THERE'S JUST THE HUMAN RACE,SCIENTIFICALLY,

ANTHROPOLOGICALLY, RACISM IS ACONSTRUCT, A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT.

AND IT HAS BENEFITS.

IT HAS MONEY-- MONEY CAN BE MADEOFF OF IT.

AND PEOPLE WHO DON'T LIKETHEMSELVESES CAN FEEL BETTER

BECAUSE OF IT.

IT CAN DESCRIBE CERTAIN KIND OFBEHAVIOR THAT ARE WRONG OR

MISLEADING.

SO IT HAS A SOCIAL FUNCTION,RACISM.

BUT RACE CAN ONLY BE DEFINED ASA HUMAN BEING.

>> Stephen: OK, SO --

( CHEERS AND APPLAUSE )>> Stephen: OBAMA HAS SAID

READING YOUR BOOK "THE SONG OFSOLOMON" TAUGHT HIM HOW TO BE.

>> TRUE, HE DID SAY THAT.

>> Stephen: IF YOU TAUGHT HIMHOW TO BE, ARE YOU PARTIALLY TO

BLAME FOR OBAMACARE?

WOULD YOU LIKE TO APOLOGIZE TOANYBODY?

>> I TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITYFOR OBAMACARE.

( CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ).

>> Stephen: OK WE CAN CALL IT -->> TONI-CARE.

>> Stephen: TONI-CARE, THAT'SVERY NICE.

>> VERY GOOD.

>> Stephen: YOU DIDN'T WRITEYOUR FIRST NOVEL UNTIL YOU WERE

39, CORRECT?

>> THAT'S RIGHT.

>> Stephen: IS YOUR ENTIRELITERARY CAREER A MIDLIFE

CRISIS?

( LAUGHTER ).

>>UN, THAT'S A GOOD NAME FOR IT.

ACTUALLY.

>> Stephen: A MIDLIFE CRISIS?

>> YEAH, SOME KIND OF CRISISWHERE YOU JUST UP AND CHANGE.

YOU KNOW, I THOUGHT EVERYTHINGIN THE WORLD THAT I WANTED TO

READ HAD BEEN WRITTEN.

AND THEN IN MY 30s, I WANTEDSOMETHING ELSE.

I WANTED TO SHOW HOW PAINFULTHIS CONSTRUCTED, HORRIBLE

RACISM WAS ON THE MOSTVULNERABLE PEOPLE IN SOCIETY--

GIRLS, BLACK GIRLS, POOR GIRLS--AND THAT IT REALLY AND TRULY

COULD HURT YOU.

SO THAT'S WHAT I WAS LOOKING FORAND NO ONE, I THOUGHT, HAD

WRITTEN THAT BOOK.

SO SINCE I REALLY WANTED TO READIT, I THOUGHT I SHOULD WRITE IT.

>> Stephen: AND 25 YEARSLATER, YOU GOT TO READ IT, AND

YOU SAID THAT'S DAMN GOOD.

( LAUGHTER )( APPLAUSE )

TONI MORRISON, THANK YOU FORJOINING ME.

TONI MORRISON.

( CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ).

A HOST OF BOOKS.

WE'LL BE RIGHT BACK.