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

Images of Don DeLillo, Alice Munro, Cormac McCarthy, Joan Didion, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, Zadie Smith, Stephen King, Philip Roth, Alice Walker and more — Literary Hub

Christian Lorentzen (Vulture) asks if critics have judged DeLillo too harshly in light of his success

KERTESZ_1972_World_Trade_Center_800px-don-delilloHave we held Don DeLillo’s Underworld against him? Masterpieces of an epic scale are a tricky business, not least for the distorting effect they can have on the rest of a writer’s works. Tolstoy wrote two, but most mortals — Melville, George Eliot, Joyce — only get one. And while War and Peace and Anna Karenina cycle through screen adaptations, how many readers reach for a major minor work — a work of beauty but of limited scope — like The Kreutzer Sonata? The same question already applies to Zero K, DeLillo’s new novel. “In recent years,” James Wolcott wrote in his memoir Lucking Out, “DeLillo must ask himself the cosmic question, ‘Why go on?,’ his later novels greeted with a fish-face without a trace of affection for everything he’s done before, beating him up with his own achievements (Libra, Underworld) instead.”

“Have we held Don DeLillo’s Underworld against him? Masterpieces of an epic scale are a tricky business, not least for the distorting effect they can have on the rest of a writer’s works”

Underworld was a finalist for the 1997 Pulitzer and the National Book Award (which DeLillo had collected for White Noise in 1985; his acceptance speech then: “I’m sorry I couldn’t be here tonight, but I thank you all for coming”). Underworld lost both — the NBA to Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain; the Pulitzer to Philip Roth’s American Pastoral — but since his 1999 Jerusalem Prize he’s picked up most of the lifetime achievement awards not bestowed in Stockholm or London, and in 2006 Underworld placed second to Toni Morrison’s Beloved in a New York Times Book Review poll on the best American fiction of the past quarter century. If the poll were held today, Beloved, published in 1987, would have aged out of the running, and Underworld’s stiffest competition would be from novels written under DeLillo’s spell: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. My vote is for the master. (more…)

Toni Morrison’s 1955 Master’s thesis was entitled, ‘Virginia Woolf’s and William Faulkner’s treatment of the alienated’. [Source]

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]

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…)

Mason Currey (Slate), author of the excellent Daily Rituals, shares details of artists’ lives

6d531-early-morning-window-sunlightA friend of Frank Lloyd Wright’s once observed that for as long as she had known him, the architect seemed to spend the day doing everything but actually working on his building designs. He held meetings, took phone calls, answered letters, supervised students—but was rarely seen at the drafting table. The friend wanted to know: When did Wright conceive the ideas and make the sketches for his buildings? “Between 4 and 7 o’clock in the morning,” Wright told her. “I go to sleep promptly when I go to bed. Then I wake up around 4 and can’t sleep. But my mind’s clear, so I get up and work for three or four hours. Then I go to bed for another nap.” Wright was hardly unusual in this habit. In researching Daily Rituals, I came across story after story of creative artists who did their most important work—and sometimes their only work—just as the sun was rising. (Of the 161 figures in the book, about a third got up at 7 a.m. or earlier.) If I were going to extrapolate one lesson from the book, it would be this: Get up early and go straight to work, making a cup of coffee if you like but not doing much else before sitting down, and take advantage of that time before the myriad demands of daily life have a chance to take hold. (more…)