Know your Lecture Board candidates: Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

A quick bio:

Toni Morrison is an American novelist best known for writing The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved. Her novels, centering around vivid characters, questions of identity, and the legacy of slavery, are considered among the best fiction ever written. In 1988, she won a Pulitzer prize and was nominated for the American Book Award for Beloved, and in 1993 she won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her latest work, God Help the Child, was released in early 2015.

What we want to know more about:

  1. Her life before she was an acclaimed author. Before Morrison published her first book at age 39, she worked as a senior trade-book editor at Random House publishing and played a critical role in bringing Black literature into the mainstream during the 60s and 70s. During this time, she met Henry Dumas, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Toni Cade Bambara and Gayl Jones and edited Mohammed Ali’s autobiography.
  2. Her relationships with feminism and intersectionality. Although her novels often surround Black female characters, Morrison doesn’t consider them to be feminist. When asked “Why distance oneself from feminism?” in 1998, she replied: “In order to be as free as I possibly can, in my own imagination, I can’t take positions that are closed. Everything I’ve ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it, to open doors, sometimes, not even closing the book – leaving the endings open for reinterpretation, revisitation, a little ambiguity.”
  3. Her thoughts on recent nation-wide movements on college campuses. Morrison was a university professor during the Civil Rights era. She has met many leaders who fought and continue to fight for equality, and has devoted her whole life to speaking about the Black experience in America. In a 1976 New York Times essay, she expressed concerns over a waning Civil Rights struggle: “Having been eliminated from the lists of urgent national priorities, from TV documentaries and the platitudes of editorials, black people have chosen, or been forced to seek, safety from the white man’s promise.” Later in the same piece, she says: “In the shambles of closing admissions, falling quotas, widening salary gaps and merging black-studies departments, builders and healers are quietly working among us.” Given these thoughts and experiences, it would be valuable to hear what she has to say about campus movements today.

Why you should vote for Toni Morrison:
Even if you don’t know much about Morrison, there are many reasons to want to hear her speak. We have the benefit of being alive at the same time as one of the most influential novelists in recent history; she is, after all, the only living American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. It’s likely that Toni Morrison’s epics could be as fundamental to the American literary canon as Melville’s Moby Dick. To close, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah of the New York Times sums up what makes Morrison, Morrison:

“Often, in black literature, it seems as though the author is performing two roles: that of the explorer and the explainer. Morrison does not do this. Morrison writes stories that are more aesthetic than overtly political, better expressed in accurate Tolstoyan detail than in generalizing sentiments blunted with anger. Most important, she is an author who writes to tease and complicate her world, not to convince others it is valid.”

In short, Morrison is the one of the world’s most badass authors. She is wise, says what’s on her mind, and—considering events on our campus and across the country—is extremely relevant. Don’t forget to cast your vote here by November 29th!

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