Whether she's talking about fiction or society, Ms. Morrison's agenda never strays from the greater good, the common good, and how by honoring our own intricacies, as she so relentlessly honors the intricacies of her characters, we might—in these uncertain and dangerous times—bring about a gentler world.

"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.'

"This is the time for every artist in every genre to do what he or she does loudly and consistently. It doesn't matter to me what your position is. You've got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it. This is about being a complex human being in the world, not about finding a villain. This is no time for anything else than the best that you've got."


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