One of the things I love about the internet is being able to access so many interviews, speeches, debates, lectures and articles by so many authors, artists and thinkers around the globe. When I recall life pre-internet, and how these items seemed further away and took more time and energy to seek out and find at times, it makes me more appreciative of this technological development that has become such a seemingly mundane tool for so many.
When I was seventeen or eighteen, Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature. She was the first African-American woman to win the prize. She was one of my favorite authors. I can say in hindsight that I did not always understand what was going on in her novels. I was just graduating high school, and her narrative technique was, admittedly, difficult for me. For some reason, I was attracted to a lot of difficult narratives (I read Jeanette Winterson’s “Sexing the Cherry” the summer I turned seventeen, a decidedly non-linear novel, and read it several more times over the following two or three years until I felt I was beginning to understand it). Perhaps it was because I wanted to become a better reader, and in the same way we grow muscle is by tearing it apart, I was giving myself books of a certain weight level that forced me to get better at reading in different ways. In any case, one day while I was in a book store, I came across a cassette recording of Toni Morrison’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize and purchased it. I listened to it occasionally over the next couple of years, playing it for friends I would make in college who I thought might enjoy it, too, and might want to talk about it. I’m not sure what ever happened to that cassette, but Toni Morrison popped into my mind the other day as I was unpacking books (still unpacking!) and unearthed my collection of her novels. That Nobel speech was one of the first things I thought of afterward, and soon I was on the internet typing in search phrases, and found it once again, and listened to it once again, understanding things she said now that, at seventeen or eighteen or nineteen or twenty, slipped by me. She’s a remarkably intelligent person, an amazing writer, and a compelling speaker. (I heard her when she came to speak in Youngstown in 2003 as well).
So for anyone who thinks they, too, might enjoy it, you can listen to it here. It’s about thirty minutes long, but it doesn’t feel like it, at least not to me.
I had forgotten how beautiful this speech is. Thank you for reminding me.