Introduction for Toni Morrison at Borders Beverly (Chicago), November 2003
by Trevy McDonald
Toni Morrison’s work has been the focus of scholarly paper presentations, numerous articles, and feature films which explore self-definition of Black women.
A 1953 graduate of Howard University, she received her master’s degree from Cornell University and embarked on a teaching career which took her first to Texas Southern then to her alma mater, Howard University, before she returned to her native Lorrain, Ohio.
Her plans were to find another teaching position, but something bigger was in store for her.
After receiving three copies of the same classified ad, Morrison responded to what would become the beginning of her journey as a literary pioneer.
Morrison’s job as a textbook editor with a company acquired by Random House afforded her the opportunity to impact the world of Black literature. Volumes such as “Contemporary African Literature,” and “The Black Book,” which would reach newly integrated classrooms across the country were born.
Ms. Morrison would have an even greater impact as she began her journey as an author with her 1970 novel, The Bluest Eye (a 2000 Oprah Book Club pick).
“I wanted certain kinds of books, and since they weren’t available, I would write them.”
Writing for oneself takes extreme discipline and dedication. Sharing your writing with the world takes courage.
This courageous woman has earned a reputation as a phenomenal storyteller of characters who overcame through sheer determination.
Charles Larson of the Chicago Tribune had this to say about her work—
“Each of Morrison’s novels is as original as anything that has appeared in our literature in the last 20 years. The contemporaneity that unites them—the troubling persistencies of racism in America—is infused with an urgency that only a black writer can have about our society.”
Racial unconsciousness and the use of icons and figurations of blackness as literary shortcuts to express specific phenomena are two issues Morrison pursues in her monograph Playing in the Dark. It is a challenge for the literati to reconsider the American canon of literature, without blindly ignoring the 400 year presence and impact of Africans and African Americans in the United States.
Her literary originality has made her an award-winning author.
- Song of Solomon (1977) recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award.
- Beloved (1987), recipient of the Pulitzer Prize
- 1993 Nobel Laureate for her entire body of literature which included The Bluest Eye, Sula, Tar Baby, and Jazz in addition to the other award winners.
The only African-American to receive this prestigious honor, her next novel, Paradise, would become an Oprah Book Club selection upon its release. Morrison is the only author to have four of her books selected by Oprah’s Book Club.
Morrison is also a scholar. Since 1989 she has held the Robert F. Goheen Endowed Professorship of the Council of Humanities at Princeton. Like tonight, her lectures are filled to capacity as she travels across the country, which is something I know about firsthand.
In 1990, Morrison delivered a lecture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was sold out, and I joined the ranks of those who stood outside and watched her lecture through the auditorium’s windows.
Most importantly, Ms. Morrison is the mother of two sons, Ford and Slade—a visual artist with whom she has collaborated on four recent children’s books.
- The Big Box
- The Book of Mean People
- Who’s Got Game? The Grasshopper or the Ant?
- Who’s Got Game? The Lion or the Mouse?
Her body of work has been called, “The type of writing readers relish and critics applaud.”
Her style has been described as “words so perfectly formed that other writers weep.”
Oprah had this to say about her work
“Her stories are fiction but nowhere will you find greater truths about life.”
Here to sign her eighth novel, Love, I present Ms. Toni Morrison.