Toni Morrison’s writing group had one rule

Toni Morrison joined a writing group shortly after graduating from Cornell University and returning to Howard to teach. In this article about Toni Morrison’s life and work, it discusses how the group’s one rule helped her create something fresh, something different:

She joined a writing group, where the one rule was that you had to bring something to read every week. Among the writers in that group were the playwright and director Owen Dodson and his companion the painter Charles Sebree. At first, Morrison said, she brought in “all that old junk from high school.” Then she began writing a story about a little black girl, Pecola Breedlove, who wanted blue eyes.

“I wanted to take the name of Peola”—the “tragic mulatto” character from the 1934 movie “Imitation of Life”—“and play with it, turn it around,” Morrison said. When she was young, she said, “another little black girl and I were discussing whether there was a real God or not. I said there was, and she said there wasn’t and she had proof: she had prayed for, and not been given, blue eyes.

I just remember listening to her and imagining her with blue eyes, and it was a grotesque thing. She had these high cheekbones and these great big slanted dark eyes, and all I remember thinking was that if she had blue eyes she would be horrible.”

When Morrison read the story to the writing group, Sebree turned to her and said, “You are a writer.”

from Ghosts in the House by Hilton Als, published in The New Yorker.

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