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  #1  
Unread 08-06-2019, 03:43 PM
Simon Hunt Simon Hunt is offline
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Default Passing of Toni Morrison

I'm interested to see if folks here have anything to say about the death of American novelist and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, at 88. I'm not particularly knowledgable about her or her work but admired the novels I read a long time ago very much, especially The Bluest Eye and Beloved.

Others here have expressed admiration for her, I believe, and I recall at least one radically negative opinion being aired, too.

The popular press is saying things like "towering figure", and I'm wondering how members of this community assess her legacy and influence.

Any comments?
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Unread 08-06-2019, 06:56 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Beloved blew the top off my head when I read it. It was fairly early in my reading of African American literature - I grew up in Europe - and I'd thought well, I know the American experience. I did not. So I remain forever grateful to Morrison for opening my eyes. Her work introduced me to a constellation of tremendous prose - Ellison, Wright, DuBois, Baldwin, what have you - to a new realm of American experience, to another and telling vision of my homeland, to a new vision of art. I will forever respect and admire and indeed love her for that. I admire Maya Angelou, but frankly, and since you ask for frankness, African American poetry has almost without exception not done for me what prose has. Maybe it just hasn't clicked. Though I do think Walcott is astonishing.
Anyway, yes, Toni Morrison. What genius she had. What vision. How lucky we were to have her write.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 08-06-2019, 07:42 PM
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Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
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I haven't read a single book of hers. She's a legend and we'd be dumb to think otherwise.
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Unread 08-06-2019, 07:56 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is online now
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I took a "Contemporary American Fiction" course in undergrad, and we read Roth, Russel Banks, Tim O'Brien, Raymond Carver, etc.

The best text we read was Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon.

That's all I've read of hers, but it was damn good.
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Unread 08-06-2019, 10:23 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hmm. Toni Morrison doesn’t seem to generate a lot of strong feelings in people.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 08-07-2019, 01:01 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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I read Beloved, which is really powerful stuff, and one called Jazz, both years ago. I got them out of the local library. I remember preferring the second at the time, because it was denser and more prosepoetry, stream-of-consciousness. I was young and enamoured of strangeness, perhaps, so I don't know how right I was. But God, yes, she could definitely write.

RIP Ms Morrison. Not a bad innings.
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Unread 08-07-2019, 01:17 AM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Isbell View Post
Hmm. Toni Morrison doesn’t seem to generate a lot of strong feelings in people.
I suspect it depends on the people. She quite unapologetically wasn't writing for some of them.

Quote:
“I’m writing for black people,” she says, “in the same way that Tolstoy was not writing for me, a 14-year-old coloured girl from Lorain, Ohio. I don’t have to apologise or consider myself limited because I don’t [write about white people] – which is not absolutely true, there are lots of white people in my books. The point is not having the white critic sit on your shoulder and approve it” – she refers to the writer James Baldwin talking about “a little white man deep inside of all of us”. Did she exorcise hers? “Well I never really had it. I just never did.”
https://www.theguardian.com/books/20...help-the-child
In my first year (1986) at U.C. Berkeley, my Korean-American next-door neighbor in the dorms read The Bluest Eye for her African American Studies class, and she became quite evangelical about it. She insisted that I start reading it right away. So I promised I would. And I did.

When I saw her in the dining hall the next morning she said, "Did you finish it?" "Yes," I answered, nervously, because I assumed that next she was going to ask me what I had thought of the book. And I had no idea what I was going to say. I had found the rape and voyeurism scenes very, very disturbing. The author had fully intended them to be atrocious (in the literal sense of atrocities), so this would probably not have been a controversial opinion on my part; but I was nervous about saying so, anyway, because my friend had loved the book so much.

But she didn't ask me what I thought. Instead, she slowly and solemnly took back the book, and then slowly and solemnly said to me, "NOW you understand."

It must have been obvious from my expression that nothing could be further from the truth, because after a dramatic pause she went on: "NOW you understand the HARM that YOUR BLUE EYES do to women of color."

I sat there speechless. And 100% certain that that was NOT one of Toni Morrison's intended take-aways.

But my friend had already bounded off to find another blonde girl with blue eyes to bully into enlightenment.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 08-07-2019 at 01:23 AM.
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Unread 08-07-2019, 01:59 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Julie,

I love that line, there are lots of white people in my books. Similarly, there are lots of black people in books written by white authors over the centuries. I guess there are a million ways to read Toni Morrison, like anybody. I don’t find personal empowerment in her writing, straight white male that I am, but I sure did learn stuff, and I’m glad others did find empowerment there - though as you illustrate, empowerment takes many forms, among them even a license to oppress. It reminds me a bit of Notorious BIG’s character The Mad Rapper, asked on a call in why he’s so madd. Sometimes people are, it can be tough to let go of. Or as John Lydon put it, anger is an energy.
Anyway, I think Toni Morrison is great, irrespective of her readers (such as myself).

Cheers,
John

Oh - at Mount Vernon, they used to sell a book on black-white interaction in America, pre-about 1800, called The World We Built Together. I found that title resonant.

Last edited by John Isbell; 08-07-2019 at 02:10 AM. Reason: I hate spellcheck
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Unread 08-07-2019, 08:35 AM
Bill Dyes Bill Dyes is offline
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Default Passing of Toni Morrison

“We die,” she said. “That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

The language in her novels sounded like no other novel I had ever read.
It made me understand why at such a young age I had felt that this was not my country and why when I sat down
at a table with white people to eat dinner, it always felt like a mistake to me ("Tar Baby").

I began reading Toni Morrison’s novels many years ago and slowly circled through them all.
When I came to the last one I began reading them again.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/20...eading-writers
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Unread 08-07-2019, 09:46 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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x
I am like Walter.

But Julie, your story gives me such insight -- and beautifully told, as always.

This...

But my friend had already bounded off to find another blonde girl with blue eyes to bully into enlightenment.

...seems to articulate the modus operandi of these days of turbulence we are struggling through.
x
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