Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Although primarily a novelist, Toni Morrison has published some short fiction, a few works of nonfiction, some edited volumes, and some children’s books. Among her edited volumes are The Black Book: Three Hundred Years of African American Life (1974), a collection of documents and articles on African American history compiled by Middleton Harris, and a collection of Toni Cade Bambara’s writings titled Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations (1996). Among Morrison’s notable nonfiction works are many essays, such as “The Site of Memory,” published in Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, edited by William Zinsser (1987), and “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature,” which first appeared in the winter, 1989, issue of the Michigan Quarterly Review. She has also published the nonfiction works Remember: The Journey to School Integration (2004) and What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction (2008).
With her son, Slade Morrison, she has produced several children’s books in a series titled Who’s Got Game?; titles in the series include The Ant or the Grasshopper? (2003) and The Lion or the Mouse? (2003). Morrison’s first play, Dreaming Emmett (pr. 1986), was commissioned by the New York State Writers Institute of the State University of New York. Honey and Rue, a musical piece with lyrics by Toni Morrison and music by André Previn, was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for soprano Kathleen Battle and premiered in January, 1992.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Toni Morrison is widely regarded as one of the most significant African American novelists to have emerged in the 1970’s. Her novel Sula was nominated for the National Book Award in 1975, and in 1977, Song of Solomon won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The former was a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate and the latter, a main selection. In 1988, Beloved was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and in 1993, Morrison became the first black woman to be honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Morrison’s fiction, especially Song of Solomon, has been compared to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) for its mixture of the literal and the fantastic, the real and the surreal. Morrison has been praised for her use of language and for the sense of voice that emerges not only in her dialogue but also in the movement of hernarratives. Morrison’s novels are also remarkable for their sense of place, for the detailed, coherent physical worlds she creates. Finally, her fiction is noteworthy for its depiction of the deep psychic realities of women’s experience.
Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Discuss the ways in which Toni Morrison’s characters confront racism.
Myth and folklore are the ways in which a culture or race learns to cope with existential problems such as death, war, violence, and disease. In a culture that has been enslaved, such devices enable people to survive the violence done to them and to their kind. What examples of these devices do readers find in Morrison’s novels?
Morrison is a novelist who is deeply involved in exploring the history of her people. Using the novels Jazz, Paradise, and Love, describe her use of history in her fiction.
Morrison once said that she did not wish to write like white writers such as William Faulkner and Thomas Hardy. Rather, she sought to write fiction that was more like black music. In the light of that statement, what role does music play in Morrison’s work?
Ancestor figures appear in all of Morrison’s novels. Describe three of these figures and explain their roles.
African American experience of American culture is often difficult to describe. It is, in Morrison’s words, “unspeakable.” How does Morrison use language to speak about an unspeakable experience?