Ms. Morrison has perfect elocution and speaks more precisely, more articulately than anyone I have spoken to in my life. She is soft-spoken and regal, except for the odd moment when she erupts into raucous laughter and throws herself sideways into an overstuffed chair. Her humor and authenticity put me so at ease, it was hard to remember I was in the presence of a Nobel Prize winner.

Ever since Ms. Morrison began her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1965, writing has always been her place of clarity, an "unsullied place of envisioning and imagining," a place where she has been totally free. When I ask her how she silenced the naysaying voices that sit on the shoulders of so many young writers, she laughs again.

"I guess I was just that arrogant. Nobody was going to judge me, because they didn't know what I knew. No African-American writer had ever done what I did—none of the writers I knew, even the ones I admired—which was to write without the White Gaze. My writing wasn't about them."

"Things were going very fast in 1965, so I decided I wanted to write a novel that was not a warning but was just literature, and I wanted to put at the center of that story the most helpless creature in the world—a little black girl who doesn't know anything, who has never been center stage. I wanted it to be about a real girl, and how that girl hurts, and how we are all complicitous in that hurt. I didn't care what white people thought, because they didn't know anything about this. This was the age of 'black is beautiful,' and, well, yeah, that is certainly the case; however, let us not forget why that became a necessary statement.

"This was brand-new space, and once I got there, it was like the whole world opened up, and I was never going to give that up. I felt original. I hate to admit that because it sounds so self-regarding, I didn't feel like an original human being, but the work was original. You know that feeling—that if you don't write it, it will never be written? You think, Eudora Welty can't do it, only you.


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