Sula, published in 1973 in New York, is Toni Morrison's second novel. Set in the early 1900s in a small Ohio town called Medallion, it tells the story of two African-American friends, Sula and Nel, from their childhood through their adulthood and Sula's death. Morrison drew on her own small-town, Midwestern childhood to create this tale of conformity and rebellion.
Morrison began writing Sula in 1969, a time of great activism among African Americans and others who were working toward equal civil rights and opportunities. The book addresses issues of racism, bigotry, and suppression of African Americans; it depicts the despair people feel when they can't get decent jobs, and the determination of some to survive. Eva, for example, cuts off her leg in order to get money to raise her family. Morrison shows how, faced with racist situations, some people had to grovel to whites simply to get by, as Helene does on a train heading through the South. Others, however, fought back, as Sula does when she threatens some white boys who are harassing her and Nel.
The novel was well received by critics, who particularly praised her vivid imagery, strong characterization, and poetic prose, as well as her terse, realistic dialogue. The book was nominated for a National Book Award in 1974.