"Romanticized and misapplied, individualism keeps us self-indulgent. It keeps us ignorant of contracts, of money, of benefits, of rights, of how the partnership between author and publisher ought to work, of the areas that threaten both publisher and writer. It keeps us in an adversary relationship at certain junctures where such a relationship is counterproductive. Individualism can also keep us dependent on foundation largesse, grants, fellowships, campuses, cloisters and handouts. And if things go on in this manner, individualism will idle us—it will keep us from the work we have to do. The political philosophy of the country chants its love of individualism, the nature of our work makes us prize it, the corporate compulsion of the industry fosters it. But it is not as individuals that we are abused and silenced; it is as writers.

We need protection in the form of structure: an accessible organization that is truly representative of the diverse interests of all writers. An organization committed to the rights of the few. And we need protection in the form of clarity, a knowledge of the limits of individualism and the private, indulgent suffering it fosters. We have to stop loving our horror stories. Joyce’s Ulysses was rejected fourteen times. I don’t like that story; I hate it. Fitzgerald burned out and could not work. Hemingway despaired and could not work. A went mad, B died in penury, C drank herself to death, D was blacklisted, E committed suicide. I hate those stories. Great works are written in prisons and holding camps. So are stupid books. The misery does not validate the work. It outrages the sensibilities and violates the work."

  • Toni Morrison, keynote speech at the American Writers Congress 1981, via the great Haley Mlotek
Toni Morrison, keynote speech at the Am…