The Labor of Writing Is Still Relevant Nearly 40 Years Later
The dying of acclaimed author, Nobel Laureate, and Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison has been met with an outpouring of reflections and tributes, each highlighting her incomparable contributions to literature and the black American enjoy. But as we rightly reflect on the singular nature of her work, it feels crucial to also consider her as she saw herself: a writer standing alongside other writers.
In 1981, Morrison gave a keynote speech on the American Writers Congress calling for harmony amongst writers inside the face of a grim panorama. “We live in an age of superior capitalism, disintegrating into banditry,” Morrison said on the time. This age “tempts us into games devised by using other humans.” (The speech become currently referenced in a 2015 profile of Morrison within the New York Times mag; the writer Haley Mlotek shared its complete text with Jezebel after coming across it whilst doing studies inside the records of the National Writers Union, an alternate union for freelance and contract writers.)
Writing is regularly framed within the language of ardour—it’s an obsession, a fixation, something almost supernatural—however never work. But this obscures the methods that writers are predicted to undergo an array of exploitative practices for a hazard to make a living and the general precarity of their labor.
Morrison spoke eloquently and forcefully to the exploitation that hides underneath the meant glamour—and the hazard of romanticizing the “individualism” of this paintings at the same time as glossing over the cloth realities that shape writers’ lives:
Romanticized and misapplied, individualism continues us self-indulgent. It continues us blind to contracts, of cash, of advantages, of rights, of the way the partnership between writer and publisher need to paintings, of the areas that threaten both writer and writer. It keeps us in an adversary courting at positive junctures wherein this type of courting is counterproductive. Individualism can also preserve us dependent on foundation largesse, offers, fellowships, campuses, cloisters, and handouts. And if things cross on in this manner, individualism will idle us—it’ll keep us from the paintings we ought to do. The political philosophy of us of chants its love of individualism, the character of our paintings makes us prize it, the company compulsion of the industry fosters it. But it isn’t as people that we are abused and silenced; it’s far as writers.
While Morrison’s speech focused by and large at the publishing global, her phrases can just as without problems communicate to younger writers nowadays being coerced to change their exertions “for publicity,” or the writers and editor doing full-time work without salaries or benefits.
It’s smooth for the lows to end up normalized or was stories of deprivation that in the end paid off. Morrison reminds us that those are lies (emphasis ours):
We need safety within the shape of structure: an available corporation that is genuinely consultant of the diverse interests of all writers. An organization dedicated to the rights of the few. And we want safety within the form of clarity, information of the limits of individualism and the personal, indulgent suffering it fosters. We need to stop loving our horror memories. Joyce’s Ulysses becomes rejected fourteen times. I don’t like that story; I hate it. Fitzgerald burned out and could not paintings. Hemingway despaired and couldn’t work. A went mad, B died in penury, C drank herself to demise, D become blacklisted, E devoted suicide. I hate one’s testimonies. Great works are written in prisons and keeping camps. So are silly books. The distress does now not validate the work. It outrages the sensibilities and violates the work.
Morrisson was larger than life determine; her legacy is further towering. But she also saw herself status alongside others, in unity and shared warfare. And she referred to as others to face along with her: “We don’t want any more writers as solitary heroes,” Morrison stated more than four many years ago. “We want a heroic creator’s motion: assertive, militant, pugnacious.”