Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Toni Morrison's legacy

Women's History Month

That which is written can be bequeathed; that which is only heard can be forgotten. (Ethiopia)

Toni Morrison, winner of 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction

You probably won't turn to a Toni Morrison book if you are looking for an easy read. I had to read “A Mercy” twice before I understood what the story was about and where it was going. However, if you seek literary gems, you can open a Toni Morrison book at random and take your pick. You will find such power in her writing that you will want to close your eyes and sit still in wonder. If you stay with her for a third read, you will understand all the more why she is a Pulitzer prize-winner and a Nobel Prizewinner

American author, editor, and professor, Morrison was born in 1931 in Ohio. One of her early literary influences was her father, a welder from a sharecropping family, who told her the folk tales of the Black community. Also influencing her were the books she loved as a child - works of Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy.

Morrison lectured in English at Texas Southern University from 1955-57 after graduating from Howard with a first degree in English, and from Cornell University with an M.A. She was subsequently a member of the faculty at Howard University.

She was born Chloe Anthony Wofford, and changed her name from “Chloe” to “Toni” at Howard University. She later took the name Morrison from the Jamaican architect she married in 1958.

She left Howard University after her divorce from Harold Morrison. She was textbook editor in Syracuse, New York, before being transferred to the New York headquarters of Random House. As an editor, she helped develop the careers of Black writers such as Angela Davis and Toni Cade Bambara.

“The Bluest Eye” (1970), written while she was a working mom raising two children, was Morrison’s first published work. Her career received a jump start when Oprah Winfrey chose this book for her Book Club.

“Sula” (1973) was Morrison's next publication, followed by “Song of Solomon” (1977) and “Beloved” (1987). She won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the American Book award for “Beloved”. The New York Times Book Review rated this book as the best American novel of the previous quarter century. In 1998, Oprah Winfrey produced a film based on "Beloved".

In 1994, Morrison received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her most recent work, “A Mercy” was published in 2008.

Suggested reading (along with her novels):

Journey to Beloved by Oprah Winfrey (1998)

Understanding Toni Morrison's "Beloved" and "Sula", ed. by Solomon O. Iyasere and Marla W. Iyasere (1999)

The Identifying Fictions of Toni Morrison: Modernist Authenticity and Postmodern Blackness by John N. Duvall (2000)

Religiosity, Cosmology and Folklore: The African Influence in the Novels of Toni Morrison by Therese E. Higgins (2002)

The Toni Morrison Encyclopedia by Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu (2003)

Have you read Toni Morrison’s work? Did you see the film "Beloved"? Please share with us your thoughts on Toni Morrison, pro or con.

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at