TONI MORRISON, NOVELIST OF FORGIVENESS

First Things | 8/20/2019 | Cassandra Nelson
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The list of reasons to admire novelist Toni Morrison—who died two weeks ago, at age eighty-eight—is long.

Morrison was a dedicated teacher—at Texas Southern University and Howard University before she became famous, and at Princeton University afterward. She also made a name for herself in publishing as the first black woman to become senior editor in Random House’s fiction department. While working and raising two children on her own, Morrison rose each day at 4:00 a.m. to devote time to her own writing. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. Her most famous, Beloved, followed in 1987, and was later made into a film. For her depictions of African-American and female experience, Morrison was awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature for giving “life to an essential aspect of American reality.”

Morrison - Work - Addition - Explorations - Race

What I most admire about Morrison’s work, in addition to her explorations of race and gender—topics which still dominate “American reality” and which deserve all the nuanced treatment they can get—is her refusal to be scandalized by evil. Equanimity in the face of terrible acts has never been a small accomplishment, but it is particularly rare (and thus particularly valuable) in the present moment.

Consider mass shootings, one of the most publicized kinds of contemporary violence. These shootings now occur so frequently that it is difficult to keep track of them, let alone process their horror thoroughly. No locale is too mundane or innocuous to be safe. First it was schools and movie theaters, then churches. In the last month alone, human beings have died in settings so banal that they become obscene when recast as final resting places: a Walmart, a bar, a garlic festival.

Responses - Categories - Politicians - People

Public responses often fall into two categories. The first, which I associate with politicians, is to declare that some people...
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