Google+

BBC Culture

Talking Books

Toni Morrison: Childhood memories

The Nobel Prize-winner grew up with grizzly tales of the plight of black people in America. In conversation with Razia Iqbal at Hay Festival, she tells how these stories shaped her as a writer.

Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio in 1931, the second of four children in a working-class family. Storytelling was part of family life. “As a child I had to retell those stories to other adults,” she says. These tales “were pretty much horror stories about life as an African American. They were powerful and highly metaphorical but that’s really what was at the bottom of it.”

Morrison’s first novel The Bluest Eye appeared in 1970, and in a long career that has produced such works as Beloved, Song of Solomon and Tar Baby, she has consistently chronicled and investigated the African-American experience. She received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.

She tells Razia Iqbal that as a young writer she felt literature – even ‘black literature’ –was always addressed to a white audience. “And I was determined not to do that,” she says.

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.