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Toni Morrison's New Novel Is Best Read With Her Backlist In Mind

April 22, 2015 11:03 AM
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When we talk about Toni Morrison, we are also talking about what it means to thrive in the midst of well-manicured and eloquent hostility. With God Help The Child, Morrison — America's only living Nobel Prize-winning novelist — has offered us not only her 11th novel, but an opportunity to meditate on the tension between the idea of the artist and the reality of the artist herself. Her name becomes shorthand for a republic of women and black artists with "no home in this place" to borrow a phrase from Morrison's Nobel lecture, people who create, reclaim and celebrate art that is intent on offering something of use back to the people whom it illuminates. Both because of her tremendous success and the publishing industry's tendency to proudly point to individual writers of color as proof of diversity rather than actually enacting diversity of substance in their book lists and editorial staffs, Morrison remains American literature's singular and singled out mother.

For her readers, especially the most faithful acolytes among them, an attempt to see the artist herself is likely a fool's errand. The idea of Toni Morrison has been too important to too many of us for too long. Even when she is sitting right in front of us, we can't see her in the midst of her own ...

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