Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

Synopsis

Toni Morrison's visionary explorations of freedom and identity, self and community, against the backdrop of African American history have established her as one of the foremost novelists of her time; an artist whose seriousness of purpose and imaginative power have earned her both widespread critical acclaim and great popular success.

This guide to Morrison's work offers:

  • an accessible introduction to Morrison's life and historical contexts
  • a guide to her key works and the themes and concerns that run through them
  • an overview of critical texts and perspectives on each of Morrison's works
  • cross-references between sections of the guide, in order to suggest links between texts, contexts and criticism
  • a chronology of Morrison's life and works.

Part of the Routledge Guides to Literature series, this volume is essential reading for all those beginning detailed study of Toni Morrison and seeking a guide to her work and a way into the wealth of contextual and critical material that surrounds it.

Excerpt

Toni Morrison is one of the cultural icons of the contemporary world. She has defined our times, as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir defined the mid-twentieth century or as Euripides defined the second half of the fifth century BC. We have made Morrison a cultural icon, and future generations will use this collective act to understand us.

Morrison, a self-identified “black woman writer”, has written in a variety of forms, but has made her outstanding contribution as a novelist. A thinker and a public intellectual, she has done most of her thinking and “theorizing” in her nine novels to date, to paraphrase Barbara Christian (Christian 1988, 2257). Morrison’s international impact since the 1970s seems a contradiction in terms: she is “at once difficult and popular” (Gates 1993, x). Gates adds that Morrison has “a large and cosmopolitan readership of women” (x); but let us not forget Marlon Brando and Barack Obama among her enthusiastic male readers. Morrison has won numerous prestigious awards, including the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, but is also familiar to the audience of The Oprah Show, who bought millions of copies of her novels through “Oprah’s Book Club”.

Morrison’s storytelling both thrills the casual reader and taxes the student and professional literary critic. Her novels, as Horace would say, both delight and instruct. She would hasten to add that she instructs by posing new questions. Morrison is good to think with but, in return, invites her serious reader on a long process of crosscultural apprenticeship. Her work is intertextual – it interrogates a broad spectrum of discourses: Ancient Greek tragedy; West African cosmological ideas; the Bible; the Western canon; canonical literature in English, especially modernism; dominant cultural stereotypes; African American oral traditions; the African American written literary tradition; African American history; contemporary theory and criticism; contemporary aesthetics and politics, etc.

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