I Think of Beauty as an Absolute Necessity

Toni Morrison? Claudia Brodsky Lacour? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The theme of beauty is pivotal within the novels written by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. She once stated that beauty was an absolute necessity. Would you please help me to find a citation.

Quote Investigator: In 2019 “The Paris Review” published a podcast that included an audio recording of Toni Morrison delivering the quotation. The podcast included the following description of the source of the audio: 1

. . . excerpts from our interview with Toni Morrison conducted by Claudia Brodsky Lacour in Morrison’s office at Princeton University sometime in 1992.

The following inquiry and response occurred during the interview. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

Claudia Brodsky Lacour: Your novels are known for their extraordinary beauty. The beauty of their language and their inclusion of beauty as part of life. How do you handle beauty in fiction.

Toni Morrison: This is something that has preoccupied me for a long time. I think of beauty as an absolute necessity. I don’t think it’s a privilege or an indulgence, it’s not even a quest. I think it’s almost like knowledge, which is to say, it’s what we were born for.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The interview mentioned above appeared in the pages of “The Paris Review” in 1993. It was conducted by Elissa Schappell & Claudia Brodsky Lacour, but the published text did not include the quotation under examination. 3 It might have been recorded during a separate unpublished interview segment, or it might have been edited out of the final 1993 text.

Toni Morrison published “The Bluest Eye” in 1970. When the novel was reprinted she composed a foreword with a copyright date of 1993. Morrison described an incident that occurred when she was in elementary school. Her young companion expressed a desire to have blue eyes, and Morrison was unhappy that her friend was alienated from her own beauty: 4

In any case it was the first time I knew beautiful. Had imagined it for myself. Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do.

In conclusion, Toni Morrison should receive credit for her statement presented in the 2019 podcast from “The Paris Review”. Her words were recorded back in 1992.

(Great thanks to Bridie Bischoff whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 2019 October 23, The Paris Review Podcast, Episode 13: “Before the Light”, Podcast Season 2, Interview conducted by Claudia Brodsky Lacour of Toni Morrison, (Description occurs at 3 minutes 10 seconds of 35 minutes 51 seconds), The Paris Review, New York. (Accessed theparisreview.org on June 17, 2020) link
  2. 2019 October 23, The Paris Review Podcast, Episode 13: “Before the Light”, Podcast Season 2, Interview conducted by Claudia Brodsky Lacour of Toni Morrison, (Question occurs at 5 minutes 46 seconds of 35 minutes 51 seconds), The Paris Review, New York. (Accessed podcast at theparisreview.org on June 17, 2020) link
  3. 1993 Fall, The Paris Review, Interview of Toni Morrison, The Art of Fiction No. 134, Interview conducted by Elissa Schappell & Claudia Brodsky Lacour, (Date of interview: Not stated), Paris Review, New York. (Online archive of The Paris Review at theparisreview.org; accessed June 22, 2020) link
  4. 2007 (1970 Copyright), The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Section: Foreword (Foreword Copyright 1993), Quote Page xi, Vintage International: Vintage Books – A Division of Random House, New York. (Verified with scans)