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Chapter Seven: Playing in the Dark and the Nobel Acceptance Lecture
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“White writers, you know, write about us all the time. There are major black characters in Updike, in Ragtime, in all of them. That’s where all the life is. That’s where the life is. And the future of American literature is in that direction. I don’t mean that’s the only group, but that certainly is one of the major groups. Obviously, lots of people are interested in it, not just for research purposes as you know, but in terms of the gem, the theme, the juice, of fiction.” (Morrison, Con I, 28)
When Jazz appeared in 1992, it was somewhat eclipsed by Morrison’s first book of academic literary criticism, which also appeared in 1992, and was a book that in many respects changed the study of American literature. Playing in the Dark, Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, lectures which Morrison had given at Harvard University in 1990 as the William E. Massey, Sr., Lectures in the History of American Civilization, were her prolegomena to what would be an increasingly active presence in all kinds of literary endeavors. One of the things this slim book did was to make critics, writers, and educators understand that “whiteness” was itself a definitional term: all literature heretofore had been uncategorized because it was written as white. Yet for Morrison, who had taken undergraduate literature courses at Howard University from the fine African American poet Sterling Brown and Alain Locke, the originator of the Harlem concept of...
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