Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison

“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don’t need someone to share it with or tell it to.”

— Toni Morrison, Tar Baby

From an interview with Electric Literature
colson-whitehead
Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead’s gripping new novel, we are introduced to a metaphor made manifest: an actual railroad, underground. A literal and literary engine for his incredible inquiry into slavery, humanity, and the true nature of America. When Cora is invited to leave, to escape the plantation where she has lived her whole life and take the titular train north, she climbs down the rabbit hole and through different states, both geographical and psychological. She runs through a world fueled by cruelty, ambivalence, and every so often, kindness. And we see this world with sober eyes by the light of her unsentimental telling.

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The Paris Review makes the announcement, with information on each of the writers.

Some exciting news from The Guardian‘s Sian Cain:

American icon Toni Morrison has been awarded the 2016 PEN/Saul Bellow award for achievement in American fiction

The award, which is presented to living American authors whose “scale of achievement in fiction, over a sustained career, places him or her in the highest rank of American literature”, is worth $25,000 (£18,000).

Morrison is famous for her epic, often historical writings about race, family and identity. She wrote her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970 when she was 39, while working as a senior editor at Random House. Morrison won the Pulitzer prize in 1988 for her novel Beloved, which was adapted in 1998 into a film starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. She later won the 1993 Nobel prize in literature and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. (more…)

From Angela Chen’s interview, published in The Guardian
toni-morrison-portrait
Toni Morrison

“I just think goodness is more interesting,” Morrison said. “Evil is constant. You can think of different ways to murder people, but you can do that at age five. But you have to be an adult to consciously, deliberately be good – and that’s complicated.”

While researching goodness, she found texts by psychiatrists and psychologists suggesting that altruism was simply “something wrong with you, almost like a deviant behavior”. Disappointed by these reductive conclusions, she wanted to work a deeper understanding of the concepts into her books. (more…)

Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2014
Justine Baillie, Toni Morrison and Literary Tradition: The Invention of an Aesthetic
Justine Baillie, Toni Morrison and Literary Tradition: The Invention of an Aesthetic

Toni Morrison and Literary Tradition explores Toni Morrison’s construction of alternative and oppositional narratives of history and places her work as central to the imagining and re-imagining of American and diasporic identities. Covering the Nobel Prize-winning author’s novels (up to Home), as well as her essays, dramatic works and short stories, this book situates Morrison’s writings within both African-American and American writing traditions and examines them in terms of her continuous dialogue with the politics, philosophy and literary forms of these traditions. Toni Morrison and Literary Tradition provides a comprehensive analysis of Morrison’s entire oeuvre, from her early interrogation of Black Power to her engagement with fin de siècle postcolonial critiques of nationalism and twenty-first century considerations of ecology. Justine Baillie goes on to argue that Morrison’s aesthetic should be understood in relation to the historical, political and cultural contexts in which it, and the African-American and American literary traditions upon which she draws, have been created and developed. [Read More]

Two photographers take a look around the iconic literary journal
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Photograph: Paul Barbera

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For Books’ Sake, a website celebrating women’s writing, identifies Larsen’s contribution to the arts
Nella Larsen
Nella Larsen

If she were as immortal as the ideas within her novels, Nella Larsen would have celebrated her 124th birthday this month. The Danish/Afro-Caribbean author, after a diverse career in nursing, librarianship and ‘hack writing’, she slipped into literary obscurity and died alone aged 72.  But her colourful life was filled with achievements, innovation and hope. So here are the 10 reasons to love Nella Larsen – African American literature’s quiet pioneer… [Read More]

Back in April, Sarah Werkmeister interviewed Indonesian writer Aan Mansyur for the Emerging Writers Festival. Here is what he had to say…
Aan Mansyur
Aan Mansyur

Tell us about your writing style. What are your influences, passions and the messages that you try to convey in your work?

I write poems and prose. In every piece I write, I’m trying to say different things in different ways. I often think that writing is how I discover things, rather than an exercise in telling readers things I already know.

What are some of the challenges you face in the writing process, and what tips would you give to aspiring writers to overcome these?

I’m a lazy writer. I like to spend my time reading books instead of writing. I also can’t write in crowded places unlike other writers, although I live in library which is quite packed with visitors. I try to allocate two to three hours daily at early dawn while everyone else is still asleep, to read books I admire and recommendations from my favorite authors. This is how I learn and a solution to my laziness. Reading books is good, they make me feel haunted and keep me awake so I ended up writing. (more…)

An extract from James Wood’s 2011 review of Open City for the New Yorker
Teju Cole, Open City
Teju Cole, Open City
Publishers now pitch their books like Hollywood concepts, so Teju Cole’s first novel, “Open City” (Random House; $25), is being offered as especially appealing to “readers of Joseph O’Neill and Zadie Smith,” and written in a prose that “will remind you” of W. G. Sebald and J. M. Coetzee. This is shorthand for “post-colonialism in New York” (O’Neill), “lively multiracial themes” (Smith), “free-flowing form with no plot, narrated by a scholarly solitary walker” (Sebald), “obviously serious” (Coetzee), and “finely written” (all of the above). There is the additional comedy that Cole’s publishers, determined to retain the baby with the bathwater, boldly conjoin Smith and O’Neill, despite Smith’s hostility, advertised in an essay entitled “Two Paths for the Novel,” to O’Neill’s expensive and upholstered “lyrical realism.”

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Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison
In a 1993 interview with The Paris Review, Elissa Schappell talks to Toni Morrison (with additional material from Claudia Brodsky Lacour)

Interviewer: What do you appreciate most in Joyce?

Toni Morrison: It is amazing how certain kinds of irony and humor travel. Sometimes Joyce is hilarious. I read Finnegans Wake after graduate school and I had the great good fortune of reading it without any help. I don’t know if I read it right, but it was hilarious! I laughed constantly! I didn’t know what was going on for whole blocks but it didn’t matter because I wasn’t going to be graded on it. I think the reason why everyone still has so much fun with Shakespeare is because he didn’t have any literary critic. He was just doing it; and there were no reviews except for people throwing stuff on stage. He could just do it. [Read More]

In a 1993 interview, Elissa Schappell talks to Toni Morrison for The Paris Review (with additional material from Claudia Brodsky Lacour)
Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison

Interviewer: You have said that you begin to write before dawn. Did this habit begin for practical reasons, or was the early morning an especially fruitful time for you?

Toni Morrison: Writing before dawn began as a necessity—I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama—and that was always around five in the morning. Many years later, after I stopped working at Random House, I just stayed at home for a couple of years. I discovered things about myself I had never thought about before. At first I didn’t know when I wanted to eat, because I had always eaten when it was lunchtime or dinnertime or breakfast time. Work and the children had driven all of my habits . . . I didn’t know the weekday sounds of my own house; it all made me feel a little giddy. (more…)