Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Toni Morrison Dead at 88


Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her 1987 novel Beloved, died in New York on Monday at age 88 after what her family describes as a short illness (believed at this time to be complications from pneumonia). Beloved is part of a trilogy that includes 1992's Jazz and 1997's ParadiseWhile Beloved is almost certainly destined to be the novel for which Morrison will be best remembered, she authored numerous other novels that will be not be soon forgotten, such as The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, and Tar Baby. Morrison also authored children's books, plays, short stories, and non-fiction titles. 


On a personal note, I remember very well how a large group of black writers and critics made a public statement in the New York Times to the effect that it was an outrage that despite all of its critical acclaim, Beloved failed to win either the National Book Award or the National Book Critics Circle Award. Knowing  that the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction would be announced just a couple of months later, I bought every first edition copy of Beloved I could afford, ending up with ten copies. It seemed very likely to me that Morrison would win the prize because of how seriously public sentiment had shifted in her favor. I doubted that the committee could resist the pressure to award the Pulitzer to Beloved (not that I don't think the book deserves the prize, because it does), and they could not. 

The copy that I read has been on my shelves since early 1988, and I still have five other copies that have never even been cracked open. Over the years, I managed to trade four of the first edition Beloveds to book dealers or collectors for other first editions I wanted to add to my collection (such as a pristine first edition of John Irving's The World According to Garp), so I'm glad I played my hunch.

The author was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Humanities Medal, and the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Toni Morrison's career received a well-deserved, huge bump from Oprah Winfrey via Oprah's Book Club. All told, four of Morrison's novels were chosen by Winfrey to be featured on her television Book Club, resulting in hundreds of thousands of copies in increased sales for each of the books and a huge increase in the public's awareness and appreciation of Toni Morrison's work. Like or dislike Oprah's book choices, no one can argue that she did not have a positive impact on the careers of authors lucky enough to have their work chosen by her. Song of Solomon was featured in 1996, Paradise in 1998, The Bluest Eye in 2000, and Sula in 2002.

Toni Morrison will be missed, but long remembered.

8 comments:

  1. Funny how some authors have a high profile in their own countries but not so much abroad, and others are famous the world over. I had not heard of Toni Morrison until she was presented with an award by President Obama and I still have not read anything by her. What would you recommend? Beloved?

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  2. Cath, Beloved is not a bad place to start reading Morrison because I always think of all three books in the trilogy of pretty much being standalone novels anyway. I'll warn you that she's not very "mainstream" in style and she can get a little deep and almost mystical at times, and that it took me a while to get into her style, but I do think she's worth the effort. She was a groundbreaker in this country as far as minority female writers go.

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  3. Having read four of her books, and so long ago, it may be time to revisit them. Each one impressed me, shocked and impressed me, and her influence resonates still.

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    1. Very true, Jenclair. Her novels certainly make me work harder than most.

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    1. Despite her age, I was shocked by the news, Vicki. It seemed to come out of nowhere.

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  5. I read BELOVED a long time ago as part of a college class on African American literature. I don't remember loving the book, but I know it was highly regarded.

    It's always sad when a literary star like Morrison dies. I read a book once about the afterlife. In the author's version of heaven, great artists continued to produce, so you could read the latest Dickens novel, view a new Van Gogh painting, watch Shakespeare's newest play, etc. I love that idea!

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    1. That's the best version of heaven I've heard in a long, long time.

      Morrison is one of the more "difficult" writers for me, but she's worth the extra effort required, I think. But I do have to pick my times to read her because sometimes I'm not wanting to work that hard. She was special.

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