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Back To Author Website. Now Available! Vision to Legacy is now available in eBook formats! View Cart. It also made her uneasy and deeply disappointed that at Howard, skin color worked as a caste system.
This was something she had only read about, and she found it off-putting and silly. But in Washington, she also encountered for the first time lunch counters she could not sit at, fountains she could not drink from and stores where her money was simply no good. The confines of the campus acted as a space of blessed comfort.
She simply could not take segregation seriously. How could they? It was too stupid. After college and graduate school at Cornell, Morrison eventually returned to Howard to teach. She married. She had a son, and then while she was months into her second pregnancy, her marriage fell apart.
She decided to go back to Lorain to figure out what would come next. She applied and got the job. With two young sons, Morrison moved to Syracuse and started to work in the completely foreign industry of editors, agents and writers. They refused to stand by as it was snubbed by the National Book Awards. Two months later, Morrison was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. A few years after that, she won the Nobel Prize. She is still, 20 years later, the only living American laureate for literature.
The last time one was awarded to an American-born writer was in to John Steinbeck. This is a problem even for Morrison. It is this audience that her critics dismiss derisively, suggesting that Morrison panders to them, with long, poetic sentences and stories about broken black women.
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It is also true that a sizable portion of her audience simply looks like her, in a world where black Americans, and people of color in general, are still perceived to be nonreaders. But of course Morrison, rather than feeling marginalized or slighted by that criticism, takes delight in it. If it assimilates into a different or larger pool, so much the better. Joyce is not asked to do that. Tolstoy is not.
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I mean, they can all be Russian, French, Irish or Catholic, they write out of where they come from, and I do too. First African-American, she asks her, as if Morrison had stuttered. Yes, Morrison replies. Rather than the whole of literature she asks.
This was a radical idea. Morrison wanted to not only broaden the tastes of the industry, she also wanted to change the fate of a literary culture that had to either diversify or die.
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She told me that the books she edited and wrote were her contribution to the civil rights movement. By publishing black geniuses, she was also forcing the ranks of the big publishing houses and the industry to become more hospitable to her point of view, to the idea that a black writer could write for a black audience first and still write literature.
She was more humanist than nationalistic, more visionary than didactic, but to some extent her editorial work was political.
What we know now is that the inclusive, empowered revolution that Morrison raised a battle cry for has failed to come to pass. Over the last decade or so, a righteous assault on the hegemony that exists in American literature has come to the fore. But what has remained more elusive is the part that Morrison figured out as an editor: What happens after the workshop and the head count? How do people change an establishment? How do people change an industry? Morrison serves as a totem for so much of this energy.
It is not just that her writing is singular; her efforts to change the lay of the land have also been singular. The literary world has tripled down on its whiteness. My tears disabled me, and I found them inscrutable. Something hurt. Slowly I recognized what was behind my crying: fear and worry. I was worried about what will happen to the stories.
What will happen to the next generation of authors who are writing from the margins? The lobby of Random House is full of old books displayed inside towering glass cases. He has the contemplative look of a person who has spent most of his life reading. His desk is cluttered with magazines like The New Yorker and The Atlantic, marked drafts and a picture of his young son.
It is a book that works almost like a scrapbook of black life in America: a collection of photographs, illustrations, and essays. It contains quotes from the poet Henry Dumas and cartoons of sambos carrying watermelons, along with pictures of pretty black centerfolds and stories about runaways who made their break for freedom and found it. He paused. Editors were looking for black literature that felt like a commentary on black life, and she was doing books that were about the kind of internal experience of being black, just like the books she writes are.
It is a gathering together of artifacts. Again, I think that points to the difference in her perspective. Jackson is a diplomatic person, and I could see him thinking when I asked him about the biases of the industry. For example, how when Morrison became the first black woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in , there were those who asked if she deserved the award. I feel like black literature, black art, has always been put in a separate category. I mean, there are almost no people in literature represented by a black woman, right?
It was still winter, but the day had spring undertones, a good deal of sun and now a pink evening sky that I could see through the slots of the skyscrapers. Across the way, I could see a dance class that was in session, a row of arms in flight. Yellow taxis scuttled down below like beetles. Yanik Silver. John Davies. Fired to Hired. Tory Johnson. Daniel Nissanoff. For Immediate Release. Ronn Torossian. Mark Hughes. The Money Culture. Michael Lewis.
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