Toni Morrison (1931 – 2019)

Margalit Fox wrote in the New York Times of Aug. 6, 2019:

“Toni Morrison, the Nobel laureate in literature whose best-selling work explored black identity in America — and in particular the often crushing experience of black women — through luminous, incantatory prose resembling that of no other writer in English, died on Monday in the Bronx. She was 88.

Her death, at Montefiore Medical Center, was announced by her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. A spokeswoman said the cause was complications of pneumonia. Ms. Morrison lived in Grand View-on-Hudson, N.Y.

The first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1993, Ms. Morrison was the author of 11 novels as well as children’s books and essay collections. Among them were celebrated works like “Song of Solomon,” which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977, and “Beloved,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.

Ms. Morrison was one of the rare American authors whose books were both critical and commercial successes. Her novels appeared regularly on the New York Times best-seller list, were featured multiple times on Oprah Winfrey’s television book club and were the subject of myriad critical studies. A longtime faculty member at Princeton, Ms. Morrison lectured widely and was seen often on television.

In awarding her the Nobel, the Swedish Academy cited her “novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import,” through which she “gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”

Ms. Morrison animated that reality in prose that rings with the cadences of black oral tradition. Her plots are dreamlike and nonlinear, spooling backward and forward in time as though characters bring the entire weight of history to bear on their every act…”

The Oregon State Guide to Literary Terms includes in its video series, available via YouTube, What is Stream of Consciousness in literature?”

From the transcript:

“…Here’s one more example, this one from Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved:

“the air is heavy / I am not dead / I am not / there is a house / there is what she whispered to me / I am where she told me / I am not dead / I sit / the sun closes my eyes / when I open them I see the face I lost / Sethe’s is the face that left me / Sethe sees me see her and I see the smile / her smiling face is the place for me / it is the face I lost / she is my face smiling at me”

This example is even more disjointed than the first, and that’s a key element of understanding this particular character. The speaker (Beloved) is childlike, ghostly, scared, and confused. Her agitated repetition of “I am not dead” makes it feel like she’s desperately holding onto life, and the many echoes of Sethe’s smiling face show the emotional resonance and importance that image carries for Beloved.

Association is also prominent in this example, moving from the house to the sun to the eyes to Sethe’s face. And how about that syntax?! This particular character’s thoughts are so fluid and stream-like that there is no punctuation at all. This adds to the urgency of the passage, the fear, and, finally, the hope.”

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