Toni Morrison has died aged 88: Essential reading from the Nobel laureate

Toni Morrison has died aged 88: Essential reading from the Nobel laureate

For years Toni Morrison has been a towering voice in literature, tackling issues of racism and injustice in her novels of moving prose.

Her publisher Alfred A Knopf announced that the 88-year-old died on Monday night. She won the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature, as well as being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2012 – just some of her many achievements.

President Barack Obama awards author Toni Morrison with a Medal of Freedom in 2012 (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
President Barack Obama awards author Toni Morrison with a Medal of Freedom in 2012 (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Morrison gave a voice to the black experience when it was sorely needed. Her first fiction novel came out in 1970 and her last in 2015, and throughout her career she has tackled some of the toughest issues facing America, including racism, assault and injustice.

Her work is as powerful as it is unsettling – and that’s exactly the point. Morrison is essential reading, and here’s where you should start.

Beloved

This is Morrison’s most famous work, winning her the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988. Jumping from the present in 1873 to flashbacks from the past, it tells the story of Sethe – a former slave who killed one of her children to save her from the horrors of slavery.

In the post-Civil War present day, Sethe lives in Ohio in a haunted house with her youngest daughter Denver. The novel explores the impact of slavery, and how damaging these repressed experiences can be. The book is dedicated to “Sixty Million and more,” referring to estimated number of people killed as a result of the slave trade.

Beloved regularly appears on best books lists, and was adapted into a 1998 movie starring Oprah Winfrey, part of the Beloved Trilogy, followed by Jazz and Paradise. Morrison explained the trilogy to the Washington Post in 1993: “The conceptual connection is the search for the beloved – the part of the self that is you, and loves you, and is always there for you.”

The Bluest Eye

This is Morrison’s first novel, published in 1970 when she was 39. It touches upon many themes which would come up time and time again in her work, like racial injustice and the mistreatment of black people in America.

Set in Ohio in 1941, the narrative starts with an African-American girl called Pecola who feels ugly because of her skin and longs for blue eyes – a symbol of whiteness. It tackles tough subjects like child molestation, incest, rape and internalised racism through various perspectives: Pecola, Claudia (the daughter of her foster parents) and an unnamed, omniscient narrator.

Due to its content it’s number 15 in the list of most banned or challenged books in American schools and libraries, compiled by the American Library Association, but is considered by many an important text to be studied.

Song of Solomon

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Song Of Solomon by Toni Morrison . . Happy Friday everyone!! Here are my overdue thoughts on this book. Set between 1931 and 1963, this coming of age story explores the lives of African Americans and their experiences. Morrison uses legends, myths, biblical references, allusions to African American music and the Civil Rights Movements to create a complex novel that celebrates culture while also investigate its hardships. It tells a story of Milkman ( nicknamed because his mother nursed him longer than many people find normal😄)a young African American man who is searching for his identity. He is a son of a wealth property owner and a grandson of the first coloured doctor in his city. While he does not enjoy the same rights and opportunities as white Americans, he is nevertheless privileged, spoiled, and selfish because of his wealth background. Written as a third person narrative which focuses mainly on Milkman, this permits us to observe how he experiences his coming of age journey, however the point of focus is not fixed on Milkman and this allows us to get a broader perspective of the events in the novel as the focus moves from one character to another, especially the violence of civil rights movement through Milkman’s friend the moody and brooding named Guitar. I believe this is the only Morrison’s novel I have read so far that is written from a male’s point of view! But it is in the same remarkable rhythmical , flowing, poetical Morrison’ signature style that I have come to love and with all its complexities and few parts that were a little bit hard to follow it reads like a dream. I have come across this quote from the New York Times that sums up this book perfectly👌 . . “It builds out of history and language and myth, to music. It takes off. If Ralph Ellison ‘s Invisible man went underground. Toni Morrison’s Milkman flies “ . . . . . Thank you again for the wonderful discussions with the lovely friends from Toni Morrison book club organised by Victoria @girlwithnoselfie ❤️ as always looking forward to our next Morrison’s read this month. . #tonimorrisonbookclub . . . #bookcommunity #the_readersdiary #womenwhoread #readersofig #blackliterature

A post shared by Noella 🇬🇧🇹🇿 Masai Bibliophile (@the_readersdiary) on

Published in 1977, this is one of Morrison’s rare novels told from a male perspective. It follows Macon “Milkman” Dead III, who got that nickname because he was breastfed well into childhood. Set in Michigan, Milkman is born just after local man tries to fly and kills himself.

This becomes the enduring theme of the novel, and as we follow Milkman into adulthood he is constantly preoccupied with thoughts of flight. As with many of Morrison’s other novels, it focuses on the trying nature of familial relationships, how you can carve your own path, and the experience of being African-American in a society where slavery is still fresh in mind.

- Press Association

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