The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English

By Brian McHale; Randall Stevenson | Go to book overview

Chapter 21
1993, Stockholm: A Prize for Toni
Morrison

Abdulrazak Gurnah

On 24 January 1988, the New York Times Book Review published a letter under the heading ‘Black Writers in Praise of Toni Morrison’. The letter was in two parts. The first part was an appreciation of Toni Morrison’s writing in general and of Beloved, just published the year before, in particular. The first part appeared above the names of June Jordan and Houston A. Baker Jr, an eminent poet and an eminent academic, both African-American. The second part, which was preceded by the word ‘STATEMENT’, took the more recognisable form of a letter to a newspaper with its ‘We, the undersigned’. The undersigned lamented the ‘oversight and harmful whimsy’ of failing to award Morrison either the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prize, the ‘keystone honors’ of national recognition in the US, and offered their own tribute as an affirmation of ‘our pride, our respect and our appreciation’ for the writer and for Beloved. The letter was signed by forty-eight African-American writers and academics of varying ages, achievements and persuasion, including Maya Angelou, Toni Cade Bambara, Amiri Baraka, Angela Davis, Henry Louis Gates Jr, Rosa Guy, Paule Marshall, Alice Walker and John Edgar Wideman. The letter became notorious in some circles as an example of the special pleading that accompanied discussions of ‘race’ and writing. When Toni Morrison’s Beloved did go on to receive the Pulitzer Prize three months later, the Prize spokesman was constrained to deny that the letter had had any influence on the decision. Morrison herself expressed some relief at the Pulitzer Committee’s decision. Beloved, she said, ‘had begun to take on a responsibility, an extraliterary responsibility that it was never designed for’ (Mitgang 1988: 5).

Prizes are almost always contentious, which is what makes them compelling to the media and as public events. Even when the award of the prize reflects a consensus, someone will feel compelled to ginger up the story with derision or hyperbole. The 1993 award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Toni Morrison was thought to have settled the issue about her greatness, although it briefly revived the letter episode. To those who had got round to reading Toni Morrison’s writing, and particularly for her African-American readers, the controversy about prizes and tributes would have seemed thoroughly pointless, as the writing’s power and originality was self-evident.

In the case of Morrison, and perhaps of other African-American reputations, issues of ‘race’ are tangled with an unease that affirmative action in this context is unnecessarily assertive. There is a perception, declaimed sometimes nervously, sometimes with bravado, that what constitutes the canon is being enlarged for conscience-stricken reasons. This is not necessarily a matter of ‘race’. Ralph Ellison, for example, himself a winner of the National Book Award for Invisible Man in 1953, thought the letter a mistake, and imagined

-263-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English
Table of contents

Table of contents

Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this book
  • Bookmarks
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
/ 296

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.