Rare interview with Toni Morrison on the importance of reading and writing

In this rare, personal interview from 2002, Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison talks candidly about her life as an African-American writer with IDEAS producer Marilyn Powell.

IDEAS producer Marilyn Powell sat down with the 'Beloved' author in 2002

The Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison has died. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf says Morrison died Monday, Aug. 5, 2019 at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. She was 88. (Guillermo Arias, File/AP Photo)

Nobel laureate and celebrated writer Toni Morrison has died at the age of 88 in New York. The best-selling author was a force in the world of modern literature, writing about black life in America. 

The practice of writing makes demands on me that nothing else really does.- Toni Morrison on IDEAS in 2002

In 2002, Morrison delivered the prestigious Alexander Lectures at the University of Toronto. She says it was her way of "dealing with contemporary circumstances not in the fiction" that was prevalent at the time.

During her visit in Toronto, the Beloved author sat down at her hotel with IDEAS producer Marilyn Powell for a rare, personal interview about her life as an African-American writer, and the crucial importance of reading and writing.

"The practice of writing makes demands on me that nothing else really does. The search for language, whether among other writers that I read or in originating it myself, constitutes the way in which I think," Morrison told Powell.

"Delving into literature is not escape, nor a sure-fire route to comfort. It's been a constant, sometimes even violent, but certainly always a provocative engagement with the contemporary, the modern world. The issues of the society we live in."

A 'visionary force'

After publishing six novels, Morrison became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature — praised by the Swedish academy for her "visionary force" and for delving into "language itself."

Morrison felt strongly about what she called "the estrangement of language." When she received the Nobel prize in Stockholm in 1993, the American soprano Barbara Hendricks sang Gershwin's Summertime, but Morrison refused to applaud what she regarded as the inappropriate use of a patronizing dialect in the lyrics. 

Morrison's family issued a statement through her publisher Alfred A. Knopf, saying the novelist died Monday evening, August 5, after a brief illness.

"Toni Morrison passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends," the family announced.

"She was an extremely devoted mother, grandmother and aunt who reveled in being with her family and friends. The consummate writer who treasured the written word, whether her own, her students or others, she read voraciously and was most at home when writing."

Click listen above to hear The Ideas of Toni Morrison, produced by Marilyn Powell.

With files from CBC News