[Toni Morrison 5]

An interview with author Toni Morrison in 1979 about her life, work, and philosophy.

00:16Copy video clip URL America as a country “for the outlaws, and the outcasts, and the failed. That’s who it was for. That’s who came…. It was the black sheep, so to speak, of the families who were succeeding in this country. The sort of people in Eastern Europe or wherever who were making it didn’t migrate to this country. It was always the outlaws or the ones nobody wanted to be bothered with, and they were making this fantastic living and then would call other people over. So that you’ve got here a country that began its life by admiration for – in other words all the characteristics that would contribute to an outlaw or an outcast are the characteristics that this country was built on. Not the staid, the civil, the depressed, the non-acquisitive of an ancient old family in Europe but just the opposite: the restless one, the one who wanted to get rich quick, the one who couldn’t make it in a stable, old, ancient society.” 

02:23Copy video clip URL “If you are not a shark, if you do not overrun people, if you don’t produce any lieges because you don’t want to be led, if you’d much rather live small, that’s failure in this country. And if those are the characteristics of any ethnic group, that group has failed. But those who strike out and take advantage of other people’s ignorance or poverty or need and get rich, I mean it’s a deplorable thing … but a successful American story.”

03:18Copy video clip URL The fortunes of the great American families were built on thievery and exploitation, as was the aristocracy in Europe. 

05:00Copy video clip URL The idea of “The West” and the conception of land as property to be taken, owned, and accumulated rather than merely occupied

06:57Copy video clip URL The importance of the church as a social institution that “mended, and that helped. It was where you went to cry, and even scream, among other people you trusted.” The centrality of music to the church service: “The music was not only the expression of an individual’s situation of power or grief or joy, it was, for the church membership, the language. It was its art.”

10:30Copy video clip URL The role of elders in the black communities. A story about a white friend becoming annoyed when Morrison referred to the friend’s housekeeper, an older black woman, as “Mrs. Smith” instead of by her first name. 

16:02Copy video clip URL Calling new acquaintances by their last names in part because she wanted in turn to be called “Mrs. Morrison” – not as a sign of respect but because they don’t know her. Wanting people to earn the right to call each other by their first names.




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