"In the fifties, when I was a student, the embarrassment of being called a politically minded writer was so acute, the fear of critical derision for channeling one's creativity toward the state of social affairs so profound, it made me wonder: Why the panic? The flight from any accusation of revealing an awareness of the political world in one's fiction turned my attention to the source of the panic and the means by which writers sought to ease it. What could be so bad about being socially astute, politically aware in literature? Conventional wisdom agrees that political fiction is not art; that such work is less likely to have aesthetic value because politics--all politics--is agenda and therefore its presence taints aesthetic production.
That wisdom,which seems to have been unavailable to Chaucer, or Dante, or Catullus, or Sophocles, or Shakespeare, or Dickens, is still with us, and, in 1969 it placed an inordinate burden on African American writers. Whether they were wholly uninterested in politics of any sort, or whether they were politically inclined, aware, or aggressive, the fact of their race or the race of their characters doomed them to a "political-only" analysis of their worth. If Phillis Wheatley wrote "The sky is blue," the critical question was what could blue sky mean to a black slave woman? If Jean Toomer wrote "The iron is hot," the question was how accurately or poorly he expressed chains of servitude. This burden rested not only on the critics, but also on the reader. How does a reader of any race situate herself or himself in order to approach the world of a black writer? Won't there always be apprehension about what may be revealed, exposed about the reader?
In 1970, when I began writing _Sula,__ I had already had the depressing experience of reading commentary on my first novel, _The Bluest Eye,__ by both black and white reviewers that--with two exceptions--had little merit since the evaluation ignored precisely the "aesthetics only" criteria it championed. If the novel was good, it was because it was faithful to a certain kind of politics; if it was bad, it was because it was faithless to them. The judgment was based on whether "Black people are--or are not--like this." This time out, I returned the compliment and ignored the shallowness of such views and, again, rooted the narrative in a landscape already tainted by the fact that it existed. Only a few people would be interested, I thought, in any wider approach--fewer than the tiny percentage of the fifteen hundred who had bought the first book. But the act of writing was too personally important for me to abandon it just because the prospects of my being taken seriously were bleak. It may be difficult now to imagine how it felt to be seen as a problem to be solved rather than a writer to be read."
- Toni Morrison, foreword to _Sula_