Over the course of her career, Toni Morrison has written novels, essays, plays, children’s books, and has been awarded some of literature’s most prestigious honors like the Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award. It might be difficult to imagine relating to a writer of such prestige, but as it turns out, she’s just like us.
In her latest essay collection, The Source of Self-Regard, she included part of a Q&A from a conference at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture in Mississippi. Someone in the audience asked Morrison to clarify a comment she made during her talk, saying she had no intention of becoming a writer when she started to write. And here was her answer:
“...it was only with my third book, Song of Solomon that I thought, “Maybe this is what I do only.” Because before that I always said that I was an editor who also wrote books or a teacher who also write. I never said I was a writer. Never. And it’s not only because of all the things you might think. It’s also because most writers really and truly have to give themselves permission to win. That’s very difficult, particularly for women. You have to give yourself permission, even when you’re doing it.”
Permission to write.
I’m a writer.
Yes, I am a writer.
What do you do? Oh, I’m a writer.
It doesn’t always roll off our tongue when we’re asked to talk about ourselves. We default to other professions, other jobs, anything to deflect attention from our creative work. It’s so common, even Toni Morrison once hesitated to lead with writer, and didn’t find the confidence to stand on the title until after her third novel was published.