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Toni Morrison and the Maternal

From «The Bluest Eye» to «Home»

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Linda Wagner-Martin

Linda Wagner-Martin’s study of African American writer Toni Morrison’s work, beginning with The Bluest Eye in 1970 and continuing through her 2012 novel Home, describes Morrison as an inherently original novelist who was shaped throughout her career by her role within families. Morrison speaks of herself, compellingly and frequently, as daughter, sister, wife, mother, mentor, and friend. The energy from playing these roles in her life helped to lead to her thoroughly distinctive fiction. The book charts Morrison’s changing vision as well. Morrison’s deeper and deeper involvement in the history of African Americans within the United States leads to her study of the urban in Jazz, of the all-black Western towns in Paradise, of the upper-middle class in Love, as well as her poignant study of the returning Korean War veteran in Home. Morrison’s 2008 A Mercy, set in the seventeenth century, reprises much of the power of the prize-winning Beloved and returns readers to the quintessential theme of parent-child relationships. In Morrison’s fictional world, drawing from the human and spiritual forces in both Africa and the United States provides some hope of a truly satisfying existence.
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After Morrison’s Love appeared, she wrote a book for younger readers, reminiscent of The Black Book in the early 1970s. Remember: The Journey to School Integration (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) told the story, complete with black and white photos and pertinent news items, of the process of school integration. Morrison is at her best when faced with the reclamation of, and the creation of, history. That same year she received the award for “Arts and Communities” from the Academy of Culture in Paris, France, as well as the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Fiction. She traveled to Scotland to give the Amnesty International Lecture.

By 2005, critics had lost count of the number of languages Morrison’s writing had been translated into: 28 is the most recent figure published. She also was invited to join the Universal Academy of Cultures, the International Parliament of Writers and Artists, and the African and Helsinki Watch Committee on Human Rights. In 2005, Morrison received the Coretta Scott King Award from the American Library Association, as well as a Doctor of Letters Degree from Oxford University in England. She gave the Leon Forrest Lecture at Northwestern University, and finished her opera Margaret Garner, which during this year and the next several would be produced in Detroit, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Charlotte, New York and other locations.

In 2006, Beloved was chosen one of the best novels in twenty-five years by the New York Times. That year Morrison received an...

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