Toni Morrison Retrospective.

Author:Teisch, Jessica
Position:Obituary
 
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When toni morrison (1931-2019) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993--the first African American woman to receive the prize--it was won because she, "in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."

This reality was black identity, African American communities, and their broader relation to society throughout history. Morrison wrote 11 novels, many in dreamlike, nonlinear prose, as well as children's books and essay collections--all of which reflect the burden of black history and a deep engagement with race through the voices of men, women, children, and even ghosts, the Nobel Prize academy statement went on. Yet Morrison's work, though purportedly about black people for other black people, transcends a more myopic understanding of African American literature by filtering the black experience through a wide American lens. To read her work--sometimes dense, filled with allusion--is to unearth a collective history of a people that shaped American culture. It is also to probe deeply into familiar gender, familial, and community dynamics; to examine the universal persistence of racism; and to expose our nation's troubled history--namely, slavery and its legacy. To say that Morrison influenced generations of writers, both black and white, who came after her is an understatement.

Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford), the second of four children, was raised in the steel-mill town of Lorain, Ohio, to parents who had migrated north to escape racism. She enrolled in Howard University and received her master's in English from Cornell University. She married in 1958, had two sons, and divorced six years later. In 1964, she took a position as an editor at Random House, a two-decade long career. The company transferred her to Manhattan, where she nurtured burgeoning African American writers, including Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, and Gayl Jones. While working and caring for her children, Morrison developed the seeds of her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970). Sula followed shortly after. The publication of Song of Solomon in 1977, which Morrison wrote while lecturing at Yale University, gave her international acclaim. Her 1987 novel Beloved, an immediate success, won the Pulitzer Prize. From 1987 on, Morrison taught in the creative writing, African American, American studies, and women's studies programs at Princeton University.

Devoid of major white characters--a relatively rare omission in mid- to- late-20th-century American fiction--Morrison's novels introduce black individuals struggling with identity, family, history, and "ancestors." Beloved mentions whites and the Civil War only in relation to Sethe's heavy consciousness--but white America rarely disappears. The Bluest Eye challenges standards of beauty...

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