Writer’s Spotlight: Toni Morrison
by Harika Kottakota
It is more than credible to claim that female novelist Toni Morrison will be heralded amongst the American literary giants. Not only did Morrison publish best-selling novels such as Beloved (1987), Song of Solomon (1977), and The Bluest Eye (1970), but she also had a profound impact in the publishing world.
Toni Morrison, currently a Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, revolutionized the literary world with her visceral plots, intricate character developments, and emphatic writing style. The masterful manipulation of perspective and often challenging subjects within her books are hallmarks of American literature. Several of her works are standard reading for advanced English literature classes at the high school and college level and will likely continue to be popular reading in the coming decades due to their high degree of literary merit. In 1988, Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and American Book Award for Beloved. She then went on to become the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. The Nobel Foundation has recorded her impact as an author "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”
However, an aspect often left unseen of Morrison’s career lies within her own identity. Toni Morrison, an African-American woman, single mother, aged 39, published her first novel The Bluest Eye in 1970. Unlike her male African-American contemporaries, Morrison was more interested in delving into the aesthetics of storytelling rather than solely focusing on the political tensions associated with a rising Black Arts movement. Morrison aimed to explore the world through the lens of her African-American identity—its history, heritage, and hardship. Perhaps most strikingly, she honed her craft through quotidian life, extracting the extraordinary from the everyday.
As an editor at the Random House publishing company for two decades, Morrison made an avid effort to publish more African-American and female writers in order to fight the homogeneity in the publishing world, dominated by white male writers. Considering her promotion of minority authors a testament to the civil rights movement, Morrison continually fought for more representative perspectives in American literature. Such encouragement included fellow African-American feminist writers like Toni Cade Bambara and Gayl Jones.
In her mission to crack the insular sphere of publishing, Morrison writes from daring perspectives: the vulnerable, the unheard, the voiceless. Morrison’s bold distortions of human emotions can leave readers stunned, engaged, and questioning, but Morrison also highlights the importance of keeping a degree of ambiguity in all her works in order to keep interpretation fully open to her readers. Although Morrison herself has refuted labeling her works as feminist, many literary critics have claimed her writing an emblem of postmodern feminism due to her many complex female protagonists.
Toni Morrison’s writing career has by no means burnt out, for the author recently published her eleventh book, God Help the Child, in 2015 and has since published an audiobook version. The American publishing world may have undergone some change since Morrison first began writing, but it is unfortunately still remains largely homogeneous. American literature continues to expand, encompassing more and more marginalized voices into the literary canon. Toni Morrison helped initiated this progress and continues to engage in efforts today at the age of eighty-four. We can only hope that change continues to transform American literature into a body representative of all.