Morrison, Toni 1931–
(Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison)
PERSONAL: Born Chloe Anthony Wofford, February 18, 1931, in Lorain, OH; daughter of George and Ramah (Willis) Wofford; married Harold Morrison, 1958 (divorced, 1964); children: Harold Ford, Slade Kevin. Ethnicity: "Black." Education: Howard University, B.A., 1953; Cornell University, M.A., 1955.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Creative Writing, Princeton University, 185 Nassau St., Princeton, NJ 08544-0001. Agent—International Creative Management, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Texas Southern University, Houston, TX, instructor in English, 1955–57; Howard University, Washington, DC, instructor in English, 1957–64; Random House, New York, NY, senior editor, 1965–85; State University of New York—Purchase, associate professor of English, 1971–72; State University of New York—Albany, Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities, 1984–89; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Humanities, 1989–. Visiting lecturer, Yale University, 1976–77, and Bard College, 1986–88; Clark Lecturer at Trinity College, Cambridge, and Massey Lecturer at Harvard University, both 1990.
MEMBER: American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, National Council on the Arts, Authors Guild (council), Authors League of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Award nomination and Ohioana Book Award, both 1975, both for Sula; National Book Critics Circle Award and American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, both 1977, both for Song of Solomon; New York State Governor's Art Award, 1986; National Book Award nomination and National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, both 1987, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Robert F. Kennedy Award, and American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1988, all for Beloved; Elizabeth Cady Stanton Award, National Organization of Women; Nobel Prize in Literature, 1993; Pearl Buck Award, Rhegium Julii Prize, Condorcet Medal (Paris, France), and Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (Paris, France), all 1994; Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, National Book Foundation, 1996; National Humanities Medal, 2001; subject of Biennial Toni Morrison Society conference in Lorain, Ohio; Coretta Scott King Book Award, 2005, for Remember: The Journey to School Integration.
The Bluest Eye, Holt (New York, NY), 1969, reprinted, Plume (New York, NY), 1994.
Sula, Knopf (New York, NY), 1973.
Song of Solomon, Knopf (New York, NY), 1977.
Tar Baby, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.
Dreaming Emmett (play), first produced in Albany, NY, January 4, 1986.
Beloved, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
Jazz, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1992.
The Dancing Mind (text of Nobel Prize acceptance speech), Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
Paradise, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
Love, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
FOR CHILDREN; WITH SON SLADE MORRISON
The Big Box, illustrated by Giselle Potter, Hyperion/Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 1999.
The Book of Mean People, illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.
The Book of Mean People Journal, illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.
The Lion or the Mouse? ("Who's Got Game?" series), illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Scribner (Mew York, NY), 2003.
The Ant or the Grasshopper? ("Who's Got Game?" series), illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.
The Poppy or the Snake? ("Who's Got Game?" series), illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Scribner (New York, NY), 2004.
Who's Got Game? Three Fables (contains The Lion or the Mouse? The Ant or the Grasshopper? and The Poppy or the Snake.), illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Scribner (Mew York, NY), 2005.
(Author of lyrics) André Previn, Four Songs for Soprano, Cello, and Piano, Chester Music (London, England), 1995.
(Author of lyrics) Richard Danielpour, Spirits in the Well: For Voice and Piano, Associated Music Publishers (New York, NY), 1998.
(Author of lyrics) Richard Danielpour, Margaret Garner: Opera in Two Acts, Associated Music Publishers (New York, NY), 2005.
Also author of lyrics for André Previn's Honey and Rue, commissioned by Carnegie Hall, 1992, and Richard Danielpour's Sweet Talk: Four Songs, 1996.
The Black Book (anthology), Random House (New York, NY), 1974.
Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1992.
To Die for the People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton, Writers and Readers (New York, NY), 1995.
Toni Cade Bambara, Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1996.
(With Claudia Brodsky Lacour) Birth of a Nation-'Hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O. J. Simpson Case, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1997.
Remember: The Journey to School Integration (for children), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.
Contributor of essays and reviews to numerous periodicals, including New York Times Magazine. Contributor to Arguing Immigration: The Debate over the Changing Face of America, edited by Nicolaus Mills, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.
ADAPTATIONS: Beloved was adapted to a 1998 film of the same title, starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, and Kimberly Elise, and was directed by Jonathan Demme. Paradise was optioned by Harpo Productions for adaptation as a television miniseries. Morrison books, including Jazz, Beloved, Tar Baby, Paradise, Song of Solomon and The Bluest Eye, have been adapted to audio cassette.
SIDELIGHTS: Nobel laureate Toni Morrison has a central role in the American literary canon, according to many critics, award committees, and readers. Her award-winning novels chronicle small-town African-American life, employing "an artistic vision that encompasses both a private and a national heritage," to quote Time magazine contributor Angela Wigan. Through works such as The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved, Morrison proves herself to be a gifted storyteller of stories in which troubled characters seek to find themselves and their cultural riches in a society that warps or impedes such essential growth. According to Charles Larson, writing in the Chicago Tribune Book World, each of Morrison's novels "is as original as anything that has appeared in our literature Page 2575 | Top of Articlein the last twenty years. The contemporaneity that unites them—the troubling persistence of racism in America—is infused with an urgency that only a black writer can have about our society."
Morrison has also proved herself to be an able creator of children's books, working in collaboration with her son Slade Morrison. Together the two writers have produced the rhyming parable The Big Box and The Book of Mean People, a child's eye view of the world—as seen by a rabbit. They have also collaborated on a series of retellings of the tales from Aesop, titled "Who's Got Game?"
Morrison's artistry has attracted critical acclaim as well as commercial success; Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Susan L. Blake called the author "an anomaly in two respects" because "she is a black writer who has achieved national prominence and popularity, and she is a popular writer who is taken seriously." Indeed, Morrison has won several of modern literature's most prestigious citations, including the 1977 National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon, the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Beloved, and the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, the first African American to be named a laureate. Atlantic correspondent Wilfrid Sheed noted: "Most black writers are privy, like the rest of us, to bits and pieces of the secret, the dark side of their group experience, but Toni Morrison uniquely seems to have all the keys on her chain, like a house detective…. She [uses] the run of the whole place, from ghetto to small town to ramshackle farmhouse, to bring back a panorama of black myth and reality that [dazzles] the senses."
According to Jean Strouse, writing in Newsweek, Morrison "comes from a long line of people who did what they had to do to survive. It is their stories she tells in her novels—tales of the suffering and richness, the eloquence and tragedies of the black American experience." Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, a small industrial town near the shores of Lake Erie. New York Review of Books correspondent Darryl Pinckney described her particular community as "close enough to the Ohio River for the people who lived [there] to feel the torpor of the South, the nostalgia for its folkways, to sense the old Underground Railroad underfoot like a hidden stream."
Two important aspects of Chloe Wofford's childhood—community spirit and the supernatural—inform Toni Morrison's mature writing. In a Publishers Weekly interview, Morrison suggested ways in which her community influenced her. "There is this town which is both a support system and a hammer at the same time," she noted. "Approval was not the acquisition of things; approval was given for the maturity and the dignity with which one handled oneself. Most black people in particular were, and still are, very fastidious about manners, very careful about behavior and the rules that operate within the community. The sense of organized activity, what I thought at that time was burdensome, turns out now to have within it a gift—which is, I never had to be taught how to hold a job, how to make it work, how to handle my time."
On several levels the pariah—a unique and sometimes eccentric individual—figures in Morrison's fictional reconstruction of black community life. "There is always an elder there," she noted of her work in Black Women Writers (1950–1980): A Critical Evaluation. "And these ancestors are not just parents, they are sort of timeless people whose relationships to the characters are benevolent, instructive, and protective, and they provide a certain kind of wisdom." Sometimes this figure imparts his or her wisdom from beyond the grave; from an early age Morrison absorbed the folklore and beliefs of a culture for which the supernatural holds power and portent. Strouse stated that Morrison's world, both within and outside her fiction, is "filled with signs, visitations, ways of knowing that [reach] beyond the five senses."
As a student, Morrison earned money by cleaning houses; "the normal teenage jobs were not available," she recalled in a New York Times Magazine profile by Claudia Dreifus. "Housework always was." Some of her clients were nice; some were "terrible," Morrison added. The work gave her a perspective on black-white relations that touched Morrison's later writing. As she told Dreifus, "In [The Bluest Eye] Pauline lived in this dump and hated everything in it. And then she worked for the Fishers, who had this beautiful house, and she loved it. She got a lot of respect as their maid that she didn't get anywhere else." While never explicitly auto-biographical, Morrison's fictions draw upon her youthful experiences in Ohio. In an essay for Black Women Writers at Work she claimed: "I am from the Midwest so I have a special affection for it. My beginnings are always there…. No matter what I write, I begin there…. It's the matrix for me…. Ohio also offers an escape from stereotyped black settings. It is neither plantation nor ghetto."
After graduating with honors from high school, Morrison attended Howard University, where she earned a degree in English. During this time, she also decided to Page 2576 | Top of Articlechange her first name to Toni. Morrison then earned a master's degree in English literature from Cornell. During this period, Morrison met and married her husband, an architect with whom she had two sons. In 1955, Morrison became an English instructor at Texas Southern University. Two years later, she returned to Howard University, teaching English until 1964. It was during her stint at Howard that Morrison first began to write. When her marriage ended in 1964, Morrison moved to New York, where she supported herself and her sons by working as a book editor at Random House. Morrison held this position until 1985, during which time she influenced several prominent black writers.
Morrison's own writing career took off in the late 1960s, and several themes and influences were in early evidence. "It seems somehow both constricting and inadequate to describe Toni Morrison as the country's preeminent black novelist, since in both gifts and accomplishments she transcends categorization," wrote Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post Book World, "yet the characterization is inescapable not merely because it is true but because the very nature of Morrison's work dictates it. Not merely has black American life been the central preoccupation of her … novels … but as she has matured she has concentrated on distilling all of black experience into her books; quite purposefully, it seems, she is striving not for the particular but for the universal." In her work, critics claim, Morrison strives to lay bare the injustice inherent in the black condition and blacks' efforts, individually and collectively, to transcend society's unjust boundaries. Blake noted that Morrison's novels explore "the difference between black humanity and white cultural values. This opposition produces the negative theme of the seduction and betrayal of black people by white culture … and the positive theme of the quest for cultural identity." Newsweek contributor Strouse observed: "Like all the best stories, [Morrison's] are driven by an abiding moral vision. Implicit in all her characters' grapplings with who they are is a large sense of human nature and love—and a reach for understanding of something larger than the moment."
Quest for self is a motivating and organizing device in Morrison's fiction, as is the role of family and community in nurturing or challenging the individual. In the Times Literary Supplement, Jennifer Uglow suggested that Morrison's novels "explore in particular the process of growing up black, female and poor. Avoiding generalities, Toni Morrison concentrates on the relation between the pressures of the community, patterns established within families,… and the developing sense of self." According to Dorothy H. Lee in Black Women Writers (1950–1980), Morrison is preoccupied "with the effect of the community on the individual's achievement and retention of an integrated, acceptable self. In treating this subject, she draws recurrently on myth and legend for story pattern and characters, returning repeatedly to the theory of quest…. The goals her characters seek to achieve are similar in their deepest implications, and yet the degree to which they attain them varies radically because each novel is cast in unique human terms." In Morrison's books, blacks must confront the notion that all understanding is accompanied by pain, just as all comprehension of national history must include the humiliations of slavery. She tempers this hard lesson by preserving "the richness of communal life against an outer world that denies its value" and by turning to "a heritage of folklore, not only to disclose patterns of living but also to close wounds," in the words of Nation contributor Brina Caplan.
Although Morrison herself told the Chicago Tribune that there is "epiphany and triumph" in every book she writes, some critics find her work nihilistic and her vision bleak. "The picture given by … Morrison of the plight of the decent, aspiring individual in the black family and community is more painful than the gloomiest impressions encouraged by either stereotype or sociology," observed Diane Johnson in the New York Review of Books. Johnson continued, "Undoubtedly white society is the ultimate oppressor, and not just of blacks, but, as Morrison [shows],… the black person must first deal with the oppressor in the next room, or in the same bed, or no farther away than across the street."
Morrison is a pioneer in the depiction of the hurt inflicted by blacks on blacks; for instance, her characters rarely achieve harmonious relationships but are instead divided by futurelessness and the anguish of stifled existence. Uglow wrote: "We have become attuned to novels … which locate oppression in the conflicts of blacks (usually men) trying to make it in a white world. By concentrating on the sense of violation experienced within black neighborhoods, even within families, Toni Morrison deprives us of stock responses and creates a more demanding and uncomfortable literature." Village Voice correspondent Vivian Gornick contended that the world Morrison creates "is thick with an atmosphere through which her characters move slowly, in pain, ignorance, and hunger. And to a very large degree Morrison has the compelling ability to make one believe that all of us (Morrison, the characters, the reader) are penetrating that dark and hurtful terrain—the feel of a human life—simultaneously." Uglow concluded that even the laughter of Morrison's characters "disguises pain, Page 2577 | Top of Articledeprivation and violation. It is laughter at a series of bad, cruel jokes…. Nothing is what it seems; no appearance, no relationship can be trusted to endure."
Other critics detect a deeper undercurrent to Morrison's work that contains just the sort of epiphany for which she strives. "From book to book, Morrison's larger project grows clear," remarked Ann Snitow in the Voice Literary Supplement. "First, she insists that every character bear the weight of responsibility for his or her own life. After she's measured out each one's private pain, she adds on to that the shared burden of what the whites did. Then, at last, she tries to find the place where her stories can lighten her readers' load, lift them up from their own and others' guilt, carry them to glory…. Her characters suffer—from their own limitations and the world's—but their inner life miraculously expands beyond the narrow law of cause and effect." Harvard Advocate essayist Faith Davis wrote that despite the mundane boundaries of Morrison's characters' lives, the author "illuminates the complexity of their attitudes toward life. Having reached a quiet and extensive understanding of their situation, they can endure life's calamities…. Morrison never allows us to become indifferent to these people…. Her citizens … jump up from the pages vital and strong because she has made us care about the pain in their lives." In Ms., Margo Jefferson concluded that Morrison's books "are filled with loss—lost friendship, lost love, lost customs, lost possibilities. And yet there is so much life in the smallest acts and gestures … that they are as much celebrations as elegies."
Morrison sees language as an expression of black experience, and her novels are characterized by vivid narration and dialogue. Village Voice essayist Susan Lydon observed that the author "works her magic charm above all with a love of language. Her soaring … style carries you like a river, sweeping doubt and disbelief away, and it is only gradually that one realizes her deadly serious intent." In the Spectator, Caroline Moorehead likewise noted that Morrison "writes energetically and richly, using words in a way very much her own. The effect is one of exoticism, an exciting curiousness in the language, a balanced sense of the possible that stops, always, short of the absurd."
Although Morrison does not like to be called a poetic writer, critics often comment on the lyrical quality of her prose. "Morrison's style has always moved fluidly between tough-minded realism and lyric descriptive-ness," said Newsweek contributor Margo Jefferson. "Vivid dialogue, capturing the drama and extravagance of black speech, gives way to an impressionistic evocation of physical pain or an ironic, essay-like analysis of the varieties of religious hypocrisy." Uglow wrote: "The word 'elegant' is often applied to Toni Morrison's writing; it employs sophisticated narrative devices, shifting perspectives and resonant images and displays an obvious delight in the potential of language." Nation contributor Earl Frederick concluded that Morrison, "with an ear as sharp as glass … has listened to the music of black talk and deftly uses it as the palette knife to create black lives and to provide some of the best fictional dialogue around today."
In the mid-1960s, Morrison completed her first novel, The Bluest Eye. Although she had trouble getting the book into print—the manuscript was rejected several times—it was finally published in 1969. At age thirty-eight, Morrison was a published author, and her debut, set in Morrison's hometown of Lorain, Ohio, portrays "in poignant terms the tragic condition of blacks in a racist America," to quote Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi in Critique. In The Bluest Eye, Morrison depicts the onset of black self-hatred as occasioned by white-American ideals such as "Dick and Jane" primers and Shirley Temple movies. The principal character, Pecola Breedlove, is literally maddened by the disparity between her existence and the pictures of beauty and gentility disseminated by the dominant white culture. As Phyllis R. Klotman noted in the Black American Literature Forum, Morrison "uses the contrast between Shirley Temple and Pecola … to underscore the irony of black experience. Whether one learns acceptability from the formal educational experience or from cultural symbols, the effect is the same: self-hatred." Darwin T. Turner elaborated on the novel's intentions in Black Women Writers (1950–1980). Morrison's fictional milieu, wrote Turner, is "a world of grotesques—individuals whose psyches have been deformed by their efforts to assume false identities, their failures to achieve meaningful identities, or simply their inability to retain and communicate love."
Blake characterized The Bluest Eye as a novel of initiation, exploring that common theme in American literature from a minority viewpoint. Ogunyemi contended that, in essence, Morrison presents "old problems in a fresh language and with a fresh perspective. A central force of the work derives from her power to draw vignettes and her ability to portray emotions, seeing the world through the eyes of adolescent girls." Klotman, who called the book "a novel of growing up, of growing up young and black and female in America," concluded her review with the comment that the "rite of passage, initiating the young into womanhood at first Page 2578 | Top of Articletenuous and uncertain, is sensitively depicted…. The Bluest Eye is an extraordinarily passionate yet gentle work, the language lyrical yet precise—it is a novel for all seasons."
The 1994 reissue of The Bluest Eye prompted a new set of appraisals. In an African American Review piece, Allen Alexander found that religious references—from both Western and African sources—"abound" in the novel's pages. "And of the many fascinating religious references," Alexander continued, "the most complex … are her representations of and allusions to God. In Morrison's fictional world, God's characteristics are not limited to those represented by the traditional Western notion of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost." Instead, Morrison presents God as having "a fourth face, one that is an explanation for all those things—the existence of evil, the suffering of the innocent and just—that seem so inexplicable in the face of a religious tradition that preaches the omnipotence of a benevolent God." Cat Moses used the forum of African American Review to contribute an essay outlining the blues aesthetic in The Bluest Eye. The narrative's structure, Moses wrote, "follows a pattern common to traditional blues lyrics: a movement from an initial emphasis on loss to a concluding suggestion of resolution of grief through motion." In depicting the transition from loss to "movin' on," said the essayist, The Bluest Eye "contains an abundance of cultural wisdom."
In 1973's Sula, Morrison once again presents a pair of black women who must come to terms with their lives. Set in a Midwestern black community called The Bottom, the story follows two friends, Sula and Nel, from childhood to old age and death. Snitow claimed that through Sula, Morrison discovered "a way to offer her people an insight and sense of recovered self so dignified and glowing that no worldly pain could dull the final light." Indeed, Sula is a tale of rebel and conformist in which the conformity is dictated by the solid inhabitants of The Bottom and even the rebellion gains strength from the community's disapproval. New York Times Book Review contributor Sara Blackburn contended, however, that the book is "too vital and rich" to be consigned to the category of allegory. Morrison's "extravagantly beautiful, doomed characters are locked in a world where hope for the future is a foreign commodity, yet they are enormously, achingly alive," wrote Blackburn. "And this book about them—and about how their beauty is drained back and frozen—is a howl of love and rage, playful and funny as well as hard and bitter." In the words of American Literature essayist Jane S. Bakerman, Morrison "uses the maturation story of Sula and Nel as the core of a host of other stories, but it is the chief unification device for the novel and achieves its own unity, again, through the clever manipulation of the themes of sex, race, and love. Morrison has undertaken a … difficult task in Sula. Unquestionably, she has succeeded."
Other critics have echoed Bakerman's sentiments about Sula. Yardley stated: "What gives this terse, imaginative novel its genuine distinction is the quality of Toni Morrison's prose. Sula is admirable enough as a study of its title character,… but its real strength lies in Morrison's writing, which at times has the resonance of poetry and is precise, vivid and controlled throughout." Turner also claimed that in Sula "Morrison evokes her verbal magic occasionally by lyric descriptions that carry the reader deep into the soul of the character…. Equally effective, however, is her art of narrating action in a lean prose that uses adjectives cautiously while creating memorable vivid images." In her review, Davis concluded that a "beautiful and haunting atmosphere emerges out of the wreck of these folks' lives, a quality that is absolutely convincing and absolutely precise." Sula was nominated for a National Book Award in 1974.
From the insular lives she depicted in her first two novels, Morrison moved in Song of Solomon to a national and historical perspective on black American life. "Here the depths of the younger work are still evident," said Reynolds Price in the New York Times Book Review, "but now they thrust outward, into wider fields, for longer intervals, encompassing many more lives. The result is a long prose tale that surveys nearly a century of American history as it impinges upon a single family." With an intermixture of the fantastic and the realistic, Song of Solomon relates the journey of a character named Milkman Dead into an understanding of his family heritage and hence, himself. Lee wrote: "Figuratively, [Milkman] travels from innocence to awareness, i.e., from ignorance of origins, heritage, identity, and communal responsibility to knowledge and acceptance. He moves from selfish and materialistic dilettantism to an understanding of brotherhood. With his release of personal ego, he is able to find a place in the whole. There is, then, a universal—indeed mythic—pattern here. He journeys from spiritual death to rebirth, a direction symbolized by his discovery of the secret power of flight. Mythically, liberation and transcendence follow the discovery of self." Blake suggested that the connection Milkman discovers with his family's past helps him to connect meaningfully with his contemporaries; Song of Solomon, Blake noted, "dramatizes dialectical approaches to the challenges of black life." According to Anne Z. Mickelson in Reaching Out: Sensitivity and Order in Recent American Fiction by Page 2579 | Top of ArticleWomen, history itself "becomes a choral symphony to Milkman, in which each individual voice has a chance to speak and contribute to his growing sense of well-being."
Mickelson also observed that Song of Solomon represents for blacks "a break out of the confining life into the realm of possibility." Charles Larson commented on this theme in a Washington Post Book World review. The novel's subject matter, Larson explained, is "the origins of black consciousness in America, and the individual's relationship to that heritage." However, Larson added, "skilled writer that she is, Morrison has transcended this theme so that the reader rarely feels that this is simply another novel about ethnic identity. So marvelously orchestrated is Morrison's narrative that it not only excels on all of its respective levels, not only works for all of its interlocking components, but also—in the end—says something about life (and death) for all of us. Milkman's epic journey … is a profound examination of the individual's understanding of, and, perhaps, even transcendence of the inevitable fate of his life." Gornick concluded: "There are so many individual moments of power and beauty in Song of Solomon that, ultimately, one closes the book warmed through by the richness of its sympathy, and by its breathtaking feel for the nature of sexual sorrow."
Song of Solomon, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977, was also the first novel by a black writer to become a Book-of-the-Month Club selection since Richard Wright's Native Son was published in 1940. World Literature Today reviewer Richard K. Barksdale called the work "a book that will not only withstand the test of time but endure a second and third reading by those conscientious readers who love a well-wrought piece of fiction." Describing the novel as "a stunningly beautiful book" in her Washington Post Book World piece, Anne Tyler added: "I would call the book poetry, but that would seem to be denying its considerable power as a story. Whatever name you give it, it's full of magnificent people, each of them complex and multilayered, even the narrowest of them narrow in extravagant ways." Price deemed Song of Solomon "a long story,… and better than good. Toni Morrison has earned attention and praise. Few Americans know, and can say, more than she has in this wise and spacious novel."
Morrison clearly attained the respect of the literary community, but even in the face of three well-received novels, she did not call herself a writer. "I think, at bottom, I simply was not prepared to do the adult thing, which in those days would be associated with the male thing, which was to say, 'I'm a writer,'" she told Dreifus in 1994. "I said, 'I am a mother who writes,' or 'I am an editor who writes.' The word 'writer' was hard for me to say because that's what you put on your income-tax form. I do now say, 'I'm a writer.' But it's the difference between identifying one's work and being the person who does the work. I've always been the latter."
Still, critics and readers had no doubt that Morrison was a writer. Her 1981 book Tar Baby remained on bestseller lists for four months. A novel of ideas, the work dramatizes the fact that complexion is a far more subtle issue than the simple polarization of black and white. Set on a lush Caribbean Island, Tar Baby explores the passionate love affair of Jadine, a Sorbonne-educated black model, and Son, a handsome knockabout with a strong aversion to white culture. According to Caplan, Morrison's concerns "are race, class, culture and the effects of late capitalism—heavy freight for any narrative…. She is attempting to stabilize complex visions of society—that is, to examine competitive ideas…. Because the primary function of Morrison's characters is to voice representative opinions, they arrive on stage vocal and highly conscious, their histories symbolically indicated or merely sketched. Her brief sketches, however, are clearly the work of an artist who can, when she chooses, model the mind in depth and detail." In a Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook essay, Elizabeth B. House outlined Tar Baby's major themes: "the difficulty of settling conflicting claims between one's past and present and the destruction which abuse of power can bring. As Morrison examines these problems in Tar Baby, she suggests no easy way to understand what one's link to a heritage should be, nor does she offer infallible methods for dealing with power. Rather, with an astonishing insight and grace, she demonstrates the pervasiveness of such dilemmas and the degree to which they affect human beings, both black and white."
Tar Baby uncovers racial and sexual conflicts without offering solutions, but most critics found that Morrison indicts all of her characters—black and white—for their thoughtless devaluations of others. New York Times Book Review correspondent John Irving claimed: "What's so powerful, and subtle, about Miss Morrison's presentation of the tension between blacks and whites is that she conveys it almost entirely through the suspicions and prejudices of her black characters…. Miss Morrison uncovers all the stereotypical racial fears felt by whites and blacks alike. Like any ambitious writer, she's unafraid to employ these stereotypes—she Page 2580 | Top of Articleembraces the representative qualities of her characters without embarrassment, then proceeds to make them individuals too." New Yorker essayist Susan Lardner praised Morrison for her "power to be absolutely persuasive against her own preferences, suspicions, and convictions, implied or plainly expressed," and Strouse likewise contended that the author "has produced that rare commodity, a truly public novel about the condition of society, examining the relations between blacks and whites, men and women, civilization and nature…. It wraps its messages in a highly potent love story." Irving suggested that Morrison's greatest accomplishment "is that she has raised her novel above the social realism that too many black novels and women's novels are trapped in. She has succeeded in writing about race and women symbolically."
Reviewers praised Tar Baby for its provocative themes and for its evocative narration. Los Angeles Times contributor Elaine Kendall called the book "an intricate and sophisticated novel, moving from a realistic and orderly beginning to a mystical and ambiguous end. Morrison has taken classically simple story elements and realigned them so artfully that we perceive the old pattern in a startlingly different way. Although this territory has been explored by dozens of novelists, Morrison depicts it with such vitality that it seems newly discovered." In the Washington Post Book World, Webster Schott claimed: "There is so much that is good, sometimes dazzling, about Tar Baby—poetic language,… arresting images, fierce intelligence—that … one becomes entranced by Toni Morrison's story. The settings are so vivid the characters must be alive. The emotions they feel are so intense they must be real people." Maureen Howard stated in New Republic that the work "is as carefully patterned as a well-written poem…. Tar Baby is a good American novel in which we can discern a new lightness and brilliance in Toni Morrison's enchantment with language and in her curiously polyphonic stories that echo life." Schott concluded: "One of fiction's pleasures is to have your mind scratched and your intellectual habits challenged. While Tar Baby has shortcomings, lack of provocation isn't one of them. Morrison owns a powerful intelligence. It's run by courage. She calls to account conventional wisdom and accepted attitude at nearly every turn."
In addition to her own writing, Morrison during this period helped to publish the work of other noted black Americans, including Toni Cade Bambara, Gayle Jones, Angela Davis, and Muhammad Ali. Discussing her aims as an editor in a quotation printed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Morrison said, "I look very hard for black fiction because I want to participate in developing a canon of black work. We've had the first rush of black entertainment, where blacks were writing for whites, and whites were encouraging this kind of self-flagellation. Now we can get down to the craft of writing, where black people are talking to black people." One of Morrison's important projects for Random House was The Black Book, an anthology of items that illustrate the history of black Americans. Ms. magazine correspondent Dorothy Eugenia Robinson described the work: "The Black Book is the pain and pride of rediscovering the collective black experience. It is finding the essence of ourselves and holding on. The Black Book is a kind of scrapbook of patiently assembled samplings of black history and culture. What has evolved is a pictorial folk journey of black people, places, events, handcrafts, inventions, songs, and folklore…. The Black Book informs, disturbs, maybe even shocks. It unsettles complacency and demands confrontation with raw reality. It is by no means an easy book to experience, but it's a necessary one."
While preparing The Black Book for publication, Morrison uncovered the true and shocking story of a runaway slave who, at the point of recapture, murdered her infant child so it would not be doomed to a lifetime of servitude. For Morrison, the story encapsulated the fierce psychic cruelty of an institutionalized system that sought to destroy the basic emotional bonds between men and women, and worse, between parent and child. "I certainly thought I knew as much about slavery as anybody," Morrison told an interview for the Los Angeles Times. "But it was the interior life I needed to find out about." It is this "interior life" in the throes of slavery that constitutes the theme of Morrison's novel Beloved. Set in Reconstruction-era Cincinnati, the book centers on characters who struggle fruitlessly to keep their painful recollections of the past at bay. They are haunted, both physically and spiritually, by the legacies slavery has bequeathed to them. According to Snitow, Beloved "staggers under the terror of its material—as so much holocaust writing does and must."
While the book was not unanimously praised—New Republic writer Stanley Crouch cited the author for "almost always [losing] control" and of not resisting "the temptation of the trite or the sentimental"—many critics considered Beloved to be Morrison's masterpiece. In People, V. R. Peterson described the novel as "a brutally powerful, mesmerizing story about the inescapable, excruciating legacy of slavery. Behind each new event and each new character lies another event and another story until finally the reader meets a community of proud, daring people, inextricably bound by culture and experience." Through the lives of exslaves Sethe Page 2581 | Top of Articleand her would-be lover Paul D, readers "experience American slavery as it was lived by those who were its objects of exchange, both at its best—which wasn't very good—and at its worst, which was as bad as can be imagined," wrote Margaret Atwood in the New York Times Book Review. "Above all, it is seen as one of the most viciously antifamily institutions human beings have ever devised. The slaves are motherless, fatherless, deprived of their mates, their children, their kin. It is a world in which people suddenly vanish and are never seen again, not through accident or covert operation or terrorism, but as a matter of everyday legal policy." New York Times columnist Michiko Kakutani contended that Beloved "possesses the heightened power and resonance of myth—its characters, like those in opera or Greek drama, seem larger than life and their actions, too, tend to strike us as enactments of ancient rituals and passions. To describe Beloved only in these terms, however, is to diminish its immediacy, for the novel also remains precisely grounded in American reality—the reality of Black history as experienced in the wake of the Civil War."
Beloved may be an American novel, but its images and influences come from the British Romantic tradition, theorized Martin Bidney in Papers on Language and Literature. "Simply to list a few of [the book's] major episodes—ice skating, boat stealing, gigantic shadow, carnival 'freak' show, water-voices sounding the depths—is almost to create a rapidly scrolled plot synopsis of Wordsworth's Prelude," Bidney wrote. "When Baby Suggs declares that the only grace we will receive is the grace we can 'imagine,' or when Sethe tells how Paul D's visionary capacity makes 'windows' suddenly have 'view,' we hear the voice of William Blake." The critic also saw traces of Keats in the scenes of Paul D's musings "on the superiority of imagined love to mere physical sex." But the achievement of the novel ultimately belongs to Morrison, Bidney added: "These few examples are by no means a complete listing of all the Romantic allusive motifs that combined to help make Beloved the visionary masterwork it is."
Acclaim for Beloved came from both sides of the Atlantic. In his Chicago Tribune piece, Larson claimed that the work "is the context out of which all of Morrison's earlier novels were written. In her darkest and most probing novel, Toni Morrison has demonstrated once again the stunning powers that place her in the first ranks of our living novelists." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor John Leonard likewise expressed the opinion that the novel "belongs on the highest shelf of American literature, even if half a dozen canonized white boys have to be elbowed off…. Without Beloved our imagination of the nation's self has a hole in it big enough to die from." Atwood stated: "Ms. Morrison's versatility and technical and emotional range appear to know no bounds. If there were any doubts about her stature as a pre-eminent American novelist, of her own or any other generation, Beloved will put them to rest." London Times reviewer Nicholas Shakespeare concluded that Beloved "is a novel propelled by the cadences of … songs—the first singing of a people hardened by their suffering, people who have been hanged and whipped and mortgaged at the hands of white people—the men without skin. From Toni Morrison's pen it is a sound that breaks the back of words, making Beloved a great novel."
But for all its acclaim, Beloved became the object of controversy when the novel failed to win either the 1987 National Book Award or the National Book Critics Circle Award. In response, forty-eight prominent African-American authors—including Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and John Wideman—signed a letter to the editor that appeared in the January 24, 1988, edition of the New York Times. The letter expressed the signers' dismay at the "oversight and harmful whimsy" that resulted in the lack of recognition for Beloved. The "legitimate need for our own critical voice in relation to our own literature can no longer be denied," declared Morrison's peers. The authors concluded their letter with a tribute to Morrison: "For all of America, for all of American letters, you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people." The letter sparked fierce debate within the New York literary community, "with some critics accusing the authors of the letter of racist manipulation," according to an entry in Newsmakers 1988. Beloved ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize for 1988.
Morrison's subsequent novel, Jazz, is "a fictive recreation of two parallel narratives set during major historical events in African-American history—Reconstruction and the Jazz Age," noted Dictionary of Literary Biography writer Denise Heinze. Set primarily in New York City during the 1920s, the novel's main narrative involves a love triangle between Violet, a middle-aged woman; Joe, her husband; and Dorcas, Joe's teenage mistress. When Dorcas snubs Joe for a younger lover, Joe shoots and kills Dorcas. Violet seeks to understand the dead girl by befriending Dorcas's aunt, Alice Manfred. Simultaneously, Morrison relates the story of Joe and Violet's parents and grandparents. In telling these stories, Morrison touches on a number of themes: "male/female passion," as Heinze com-Page 2582 | Top of Articlemented; the movement of blacks into large urban areas after Reconstruction; and, as is usually the case with her novels, the effects of racism and history on the African-American community. Morrison also makes use of an unusual storytelling device: an unnamed, intrusive, and unreliable narrator.
"The standard set by the brilliance and intensity of Morrison's previous novel Beloved is so high that Jazz does not pretend to come close to attaining it," stated Kenyon Review contributor Peter Erickson. Nevertheless, many reviewers responded enthusiastically to the provocative themes Morrison presents in Jazz. "The unrelenting, destructive influence of racism and oppression on the black family is manifested in Jazz by the almost-total absence of the black family," stated Heinze. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Michael Wood remarked that "black women in Jazz are arming themselves, physically and mentally, and in this they have caught a current of the times, a not always visible indignation that says enough is enough." Several reviewers felt that Morrison's use of an unreliable narrator impeded the story's effectiveness. Erickson, for instance, averred that the narrator "is not inventive enough. Because the narrator displays a lack of imagination at crucial moments, she seems to get in the way, to block rather than to enable access to deeper levels." But Heinze found that Morrison's unreliable narrator allows the author to engage the reader in a way that she has not done in her previous novels: "in Jazz Morrison questions her ability to answer the very issues she raises, extending the responsibility of her own novel writing to her readers." Heinze concluded: "Morrison thereby sends an invitation to her readers to become a part of that struggle to comprehend totality that will continue to spur her genius."
Morrison's "genius" was recognized a year after the publication of Jazz with a momentous award: the Nobel Prize for Literature. The first black and only the eighth woman to win the award, Morrison told Dreifus that "it was as if the whole category of 'female writer' and 'black writer' had been redeemed. I felt I represented a whole world of women who either were silenced or who had never received the imprimatur of the established literary world." In describing the author after its selection, the Nobel Committee noted, as quoted by Heinze: "She delves into the language itself, a language she wants to liberate from the fetters of race. And she addresses us with the luster of poetry." In 1996, Morrison received another prestigious award, the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters; this was followed by the National Humanities Medal in 2001.
In Paradise, Morrison's first novel after winning the Nobel Prize, noted America contributor Hermine Pinson, "the writer appears to be reinterpreting some of her most familiar themes: the significance of the 'ancestor' in our lives, the importance of community, the concept of 'home,' and the continuing conundrum of race in the United States. The title and intended subject of the text—Paradise—accommodates all of the foregoing themes." Like Beloved, Paradise "centers on a catastrophic act of violence that begs to be understood," National Catholic Reporter contributor Judith Bromberg explained. "Morrison meticulously peels away layer upon layer of truth so that what we think we know, we don't until she finally confronts us with raw truth." The conflict, and the violence that results from it, comes out of the dedicated self-righteousness of the leading families of the all-black town of Ruby, Oklahoma. "The story begins in Oklahoma in 1976," Pinson said, "when nine men from the still all-black town of Ruby invade the local convent on a mission to keep the town safe from the outright evil and depravity that they believe is embodied in the disparate assembly of religious women who live there." "In a show of force a posse of nine descend on the crumbling mansion in the predawn of a summer morning, killing all four of the troubled, flawed women who have sought refuge there," Bromberg stated.
Many reviewers recognized Morrison's accomplishment in Paradise. John Kennedy of Antioch Review called Morrison's opening chapter "Faulknerian"; with its "rich, evocative and descriptive passages, it is a haunting introduction to the repressed individuality that stalks 'so clean and blessed a mission.'" The novel "is full of challenges and surprises," wrote Christian Century reviewer Reggie Young. "Though it does not quite come up to the standard of Morrison's masterwork, Beloved, this is one of the most important novels of the decade." "This is Morrison's first novel since her 1993 Jazz," summed up Emily J. Jones in Library Journal, "and it is well worth the wait."
Morrison's 2003 offering, Love, is the story of a well-off African American man who runs a hotel for patrons similar to himself. It incorporates elements of bias based on financial status and the strife that money can cause between loved ones. World Literature Today contributor Daniel Garrett commented that the book, "which is richer and wilder than most books, reminds me of other entertainments, both within and outside Morrison's oeuvre—and that makes it a surprising disappointment." Nola Theiss disagreed, in a Kliattreview, stating that the "language requires careful reading as each sentence is a poem in itself." Theiss concluded that "Raw and ethereal at the same time, Love will be read for generations."
In addition to her novels, Morrison has also published in other genres. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination is a collection of three lectures that Morrison gave at Harvard University in 1990. Focusing on racism as it has manifested itself in American literature, these essays of literary criticism explore the works of authors such as Willa Cather, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway. In 1992, Morrison edited Raceing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality, eighteen essays about Thomas's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Turning her attention to younger readers, Morrison collaborated with her son Slade on a 1999 picture book called The Big Box, based on a story Slade made up when he was nine. Morrison provided the verse for a tale of three children living in "a big brown box [with] three big locks"; the children have been sent there by their parents, who feel the high-spirited and imaginative youngsters "can't handle their freedom." These children have all done something to upset the parents: Patty is too talkative in the library; Liza Sue allows the chickens to keep their eggs; and Mickey plays when he should not. The adults do not like rebellious children and so put them away, not even bothering to listen to their repeated protest: "I know that you think / You're doing what is best for me. / But if freedom is handled just your way / Then it's not my freedom or free."
While the tale ends happily, the generally downbeat tone of the story made some critics wary of the children's book. A contributor for Publishers Weekly faulted the picture book for having "little of the childlike perspective that so masterfully informs The Bluest Eye." A Horn Book contributor likewise complained of the "heavy-handed irony" that informs much of the book. Hazel Rochman, writing in Booklist, decided that The Big Box "will appeal most to adults who cherish images of childhood innocence in a fallen world." Ellen Fader, writing in School Library Journal, felt the book "will have a hard time finding its audience," as it appears to be for children, but the message "requires more sophistication." A critic for Kirkus Reviews, however, noted that the message of the book is "valid" and "strongly made," calling the work "a promising children's book debut." And a reviewer for Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy also had praise for the title, remarking favorably upon the "haunting message about children who don't fit the accepted definitions of … 'normal.'"
Teaming up again with her son Slade, Morrison published another juvenile title in 2002, The Book of Mean People, a "bittersweet volume [that] takes meanness in stride and advocates kindness as the antidote," observed a contributor for Publishers Weekly. The narrative is a catalog of the things adults do to kids that kids often interpret as being mean. Grownups shout when something is wrong, make children eat things they do not like, and even dictate the time youngsters are to be in bed. These thoughts seemingly come from a bunny featured in the illustrations by Pascal Lemaître. Overall, this second children's title enjoyed a more positive critical reception than the first. A Kirkus Reviews critic thought that young readers "who know just what the young narrator is talking about may take to heart the closing advice to smile in the face of frowns." School Library Journal contributor Judy Constantinides felt that "the book could be used as a springboard to discuss anger and shouting." Evette Porter, writing in Black Issues Book Review, found The Book of Mean People "a witty yet candid look at anger from the perspective of a child." The book was published in tandem with an interactive journal so that children can record their responses to situations that make them feel angry and helpless. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly thought that the questions supplied as writing prompts in the journal "encourage reflection," while Porter commented that the journal could "serve as a preschool primer in anger-management therapy."
As interesting as such writing projects are, however, it is Morrison's adult fiction that has secured her place among the literary elite. Morrison is an author who labors contentedly under the labels bestowed by pigeonholing critics. She has no objection to being called a black woman writer, because, as she told an interviewer for the New York Times, "I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and a female person are greater than those of people who are neither…. My world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger." Nor does she strive for that much-vaunted universality that purports to be a hallmark of fine fiction. "I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio," she told an interviewer for the New Republic. "I never asked [James] Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don't know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. [William] Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That's what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say 'people,' that's what I mean."
Black woman writer or simply American novelist, Morrison is a prominent and respected figure in modern letters. As testament to her influence, something of a cottage industry has arisen of Morrison assessments. According to a Time article, the author "has inspired a generation of black artists,… produced seismic effects on publishing … [and] affected the course of black-studies programs across the U.S." Several books and dozens of critical essays are devoted to the examination of her fiction. Though popular acceptance of her work has seldom flagged, Morrison found her Song of Solomon shooting to the bestseller lists again after being selected by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey as a book-club pick in 1996; in 2002, Sula was the novel chosen to close out Winfrey's popular discussion group. The author's hometown of Lorain, Ohio, is the setting for the biennial Toni Morrison Society Conference; a 2000 gathering attracted 130 scholars from around the globe.
In the Detroit News, Larson suggested that Morrison's has been "among the most exciting literary careers of the last decade" and that each of her books "has made a quantum jump forward." Ironically, House commended Morrison for the universal nature of her work. "Unquestionably," House wrote, "Toni Morrison is an important novelist who continues to develop her talent. Part of her appeal, of course, lies in her extraordinary ability to create beautiful language and striking characters. However, Morrison's most important gift, the one which gives her a major author's universality, is the insight with which she writes of problems all humans face…. At the core of all her novels is a penetrating view of the unyielding, heartbreaking dilemmas which torment people of all races." Snitow noted that the author "wants to tend the imagination, search for an expansion of the possible, nurture a spiritual richness in the black tradition even after 300 years in the white desert." Lee concluded of Morrison's accomplishments: "Though there are unifying aspects in her novels, there is not a dully repetitive sameness. Each casts the problems in specific, imaginative terms, and the exquisite, poetic language awakens our senses as she communicates an often ironic vision with moving imagery. Each novel reveals the acuity of her perception of psychological motivation of the female especially, of the Black particularly, and of the human generally."
"The problem I face as a writer is to make my stories mean something," Morrison stated in an interview in Black Women Writers at Work. "You can have wonderful, interesting people, a fascinating story, but it's not about anything. It has no real substance. I want my books to always be about something that is important to me, and the subjects that are important in the world are the same ones that have always been important." In Black Women Writers (1950–1980), she elaborated on this idea. Fiction, she wrote, "should be beautiful, and powerful, but it should also work. It should have something in it that enlightens; something in it that opens the door and points the way. Something in it that suggests what the conflicts are, what the problems are. But it need not solve those problems because it is not a case study, it is not a recipe." The author who said that writing to her "is discovery; it's talking deep within myself" told the New York Times Book Review that the essential theme in her growing body of fiction is "how and why we learn to live this life intensely and well."
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Hudson Review, spring, 1978; summer, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 433.
Hungry Mind Review, spring, 1998, review of Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, p. 55; fall, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 33.
Jet, February 12, 1996, p. 4.
Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, review of The Big Box, p. 795.
Kenyon Review, summer, 1993, Peter Erickson, review of Jazz, p. 197.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 1136; September 1, 2002, review of The Book of Mean People, p. 1316.
Kliatt, March, 2005, Nola Theiss, review of Love, p. 21.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, September 19, 2000, Sandy Bauers, "Unabridged Version of Toni Morrison's 'Bluest Eye' Now Available."
Library Journal, February 15, 1998, Emily J. Jones, review of Paradise, p. 172; October 15, 1999, review of Paradise (audio version), p. 123.
London Review of Books, May 7, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 25.
Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1981; October 14, 1987; November 1, 1998, "A Conversation between Michael Silverblatt and Toni Morrison," p. 2.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 30, 1987, John Leonard, review of Beloved; January 11, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 2.
Maclean's, March 30, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 65.
Massachusetts Review, autumn, 1977.
MELUS, fall, 1980, pp. 69-82.
Minority Voices, fall, 1980, pp. 51-63; spring-fall, 1981, pp. 59-68.
Modern Fiction Studies, spring, 1988.
Mosaic (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), June, 1996, Laurie Vickroy, "The Politics of Abuse: The Traumatized Child in Toni Morrison and Marguerite Duras," p. 91.
Ms., June, 1974; December, 1974; August, 1987; March, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 80.
Nation, July 6, 1974; November 19, 1977; May 2, 1981; January 17, 1994, p. 59; January 26, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 25.
National Catholic Reporter, May 22, 1998, Judith Bromberg, review of Paradise, p. 35.
New Republic, December 3, 1977; March 21, 1981; October 19, 1987, Stanley Crouch, review of Beloved; March 27, 1995, p. 9; March 2, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 29.
New Statesman, May 22, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 56.
Newsweek, November 30, 1970; January 7, 1974; September 12, 1977; March 30, 1981, "Black Magic" (cover story); September 28, 1987, Walter Clemons, review of Beloved; January 12, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 62.
New York, April 13, 1981.
New Yorker, November 7, 1977; June 15, 1981; January 12, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 78.
New York Post, January 26, 1974.
New York Review of Books, November 10, 1977; April 30, 1981; November 19, 1992, p. 7; February 2, 1995, p. 36; June 11, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 64.
New York Times, November 13, 1970; September 6, 1977; March 21, 1981; August 26, 1987; September 2, 1987, Michiko Kakutani, review of Beloved; January 24, 1988; January 6, 1998, review of Paradise, p. E8.
New York Times Book Review, November 1, 1970; December 30, 1973; June 2, 1974; September 11, 1977; March 29, 1981; September 13, 1987, Margaret Atwood, "Haunted by Their Nightmares," p. 1; October 25, 1992, p. 1; January 11, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 6; May 31, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 23; May 2, 1999, review of Paradise, p. 32.
New York Times Magazine, August 22, 1971; August 11, 1974; July 4, 1976; May 20, 1979; September 11, 1994, Claudia Dreifus, "Chloe Wofford Talks about Toni Morrison," p. 1372.
Observer (London, England), March 29, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 15; March 14, 1999, review of Beloved, p. 14.
Obsidian, spring/summer, 1979; winter, 1986, pp. 151-161.
Papers on Language and Literature, summer, 2000, Martin Bidney, "Creating a Feminist-Communitarian Romanticism in Beloved," p. 271.
People, July 29, 1974; November 30, 1987; May 18, 1998, p. 45.
Perspectives on Contemporary Literature, 1982, pp. 10-17.
Philadelphia Inquirer, April 1, 1988.
PR Newswire, February 20, 2003, "Michigan Opera Theatre, Cincinnati Opera, and Opera Company of Philadelphia Announce the Co-commission of Margaret Gardner by Composer Richard Danielpour and Librettist Toni Morrison."
Publishers Weekly, July 17, 1987, review of Beloved; August 21, 1987; March 2, 1998, p. 29; July 12, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 95; May 1, 2000, Daisy Maryles, "Score: Winfrey 33, Morrison 3," p. 20; April 8, 2002, "Oprah: 46 and Out"; September 9, 2002, review of The Book of Mean People, p. 68; November 11, 2002, review of The Book of Mean People Journal, pp. 66-67; June 2, 2003, review of The Ant or the Grasshopper, p. 50.
Quill and Quire, January, 1998, review of Paradise (audio version), p. 33.
Saturday Review, September 17, 1977.
School Library Journal, September, 1999, Ellen Fader, review of The Big Box, p. 227; November, 2002, Judith Constantinides, review of The Book of Mean People, p. 132.
Southern Review, autumn, 1987.
Spectator, December 9, 1978; February 2, 1980; December 19, 1981.
Studies in American Fiction, spring, 1987; autumn, 1989.
Studies in Black Literature, Volume 6, 1976.
Time, September 12, 1977; March 16, 1981; September 21, 1987; April 27, 1992; October 18, 1993; June 17, 1996, p. 73.
Times (London, England), October 15, 1987, Nicholas Shakespeare, review of Beloved.
Times Literary Supplement, October 4, 1974; November 24, 1978; February 8, 1980; December 19, 1980; October 30, 1981; October 16-22, 1987; March 5, 1993; March 27, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 22.
U.S. News and World Report, October 19, 1987.
Village Voice, August 29, 1977; July 1-7, 1981.
Vogue, April, 1981; January, 1986.
Voice Literary Supplement, September, 1987; December, 1992, p. 15.
Wall Street Journal, January 20, 1998, review of Paradise, p. A16.
Washington Post, February 3, 1974; March 6, 1974; September 30, 1977; April 8, 1981; February 9, 1983; October 5, 1987.
Washington Post Book World, February 3, 1974; September 4, 1977; December 4, 1977; March 22, 1981; September 6, 1987; November 8, 1992, p. 3; January 11, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 1.
Women's Journal, April, 1999, review of Paradise, p. 20.
Women's Review of Books, December, 1992, p. 1; April, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 1.
World Literature Today, summer, 1978; spring, 1993, p. 394; January-April, 2005, Daniel Garrett, review of Love, p. 90.
Biography.com, http://www.biography.com/ (February 12, 2003), "Morrison, Tony."
New York Times Online, http://www.nytimes.com/ (January 11, 1998) Brooke Allen, "The Promised Land."
Voices from the Gaps, http://voices.cla.umn.edu/ (February 12, 2003), "Toni Morrison."