We (Forever) Heart: Toni Morrison

From Beloved to Song of Solomon, 83-year-old Toni Morrison has shared a panoply of great novels with the world. The author’s accolades range from the Nobel Prize in Literature to the Pulitzer, earning her works a lasting spot as American classics.

Photo courtesy of PEN American Center licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Earlier this month, Knopf announced it will be printing the author’s eleventh novel, God Help the Child. With a publication date set for April 2015, the 192-page novel is described as “a searing tale about the way childhood trauma shapes and misshapes the life of the adult.”

The full plot summary introduces the novel’s community of characters:

At the center: a woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life; but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love until she told a lie that ruined the life of an innocent woman, a lie whose reverberations refuse to diminish… Booker, the man Bride loves and loses, whose core of anger was born in the wake of the childhood murder of his beloved brother… Rain, the mysterious white child, who finds in Bride the only person she can talk to about the abuse she’s suffered at the hands of her prostitute mother… and Sweetness, Bride’s mother, who takes a lifetime to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

The Guardian shares the opening line: “It’s not my fault. So you can’t blame me. I didn’t do it and have no idea how it happened.”

These spoilers hint at staples of Morrison’s works: a progressive unmasking of a tangled past, complicated racial relationships and the persisting pains of childhood.

In celebration of Morrison’s new novel, we wanted to share a few of our favorite media moments from the author, highlighting some of the many reasons we love her.

In mid-November, Morrison appeared on The Colbert Report in what we hope is just the first of many publicity interviews for God Help the Child. The conversation was comedic while gentle, lighthearted while poignant. When asked how she’d like to be categorized—Colbert suggests African American writer or Korean pop star—Morrison responds simply, “an American writer.” This comment, along with many others, drew applause from the audience.

Colbert: You didn’t write your first novel until you were 39, correct?
Morrison: That’s true.
Colbert: Is your entire literary career a midlife crisis?
Morrison: [Laughs] You know, that’s a good name for it, actually. … Yea, some kind of crisis where you just up and change. You know, I thought everything in the world that I wanted to read had been written, and then in my thirties I wanted something else. I wanted to show how painful this constructed horrible racism was on the most vulnerable people in a society—girls, Black girls, poor girls—and that it really and truly could hurt you. So that’s what I was looking for, and no one—I thought—had written that book. So since I really wanted to read it, I thought I should write it.

When asked about her writing process in Interview magazine, Morrison stated:

I’ll tell you what helped: Black male writers write about what’s important to them or their lives, and what is important to them is the oppressor, the white man, because he’s the one making life complicated. Then I noticed that Black women never do that. In the ’20s, they did, but I mean contemporary—and I wasn’t interested in it. Suddenly if you took the gaze of the white male—or even the white female, but certainly the male—out of the world, it was freedom! You could think anything, go anywhere, imagine anything… There was no longer the problem of looking through the master’s gaze. With that gaze, you’re always reacting, proving something.

The interview­—published before the release of Home in 2012—is a fabulous read, capturing some of Morrison’s thoughts on writing,  literature and Obama’s presidency.

Morrison was the first African American woman and the eighth woman to ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The judges praised her novels for being “characterized by visionary force and poetic import, giv[ing] life to an essential aspect of American reality.” Morrison’s novels give voice and validity to the experiences of poor Black Americans, girls and women specifically, living in post-slavery America.

Some quotable gems:

  • “They were old enough to be irritable when and where they chose, tired enough to look forward to death, disinterested enough to accept the idea of pain while ignoring the presence of pain. They were, in fact and at last, free. And the lives of these old Black women were synthesized in their eyes—a purée of tragedy and humor, wickedness and serenity, truth and fantasy.” (The Bluest Eye)
  • “They had become an occasional mutter—like the interior sounds a women makes when she believes she is alone and unobserved at her work: a sth when she misses the needle’s eye; a soft moan when she sees another chip in her one good platter; the low friendly argument with which she greets the hens. Nothing fierce or startling. Just the eternal, private conversation that takes place between women and their tasks.” (Beloved)
  • “Listen, baby, people do funny things. Specially us. The cards are stacked against us and just trying to stay in the game, stay alive and in the game, makes us do funny things. Things we can’t help. Things that make us hurt one another. We don’t even know why.” (Song of Solomon)

Swoon. April seems too far away.

About

Brianna Kovan is a reader and writer from the Midwest. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English.