Book of the Week: 02/11 - 02/17

 

The Origin of Others

By: Toni Morrison | Ta-Nehisi Coates (Foreword)

America's foremost novelist reflects on the themes that preoccupy her work and increasingly dominate national and world politics: race, fear, borders, the mass movement of peoples, the desire for belonging. What is race and why does it matter? What motivates the human tendency to construct Others? Why does the presence of Others make us so afraid?

Drawing on her Norton Lectures, Toni Morrison takes up these and other vital questions bearing on identity in The Origin of Others. In her search for answers, the novelist considers her own memories as well as history, politics, and especially literature. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, and Camara Laye are among the authors she examines. Readers of Morrison's fiction will welcome her discussions of some of her most celebrated books--Beloved, Paradise, and A Mercy.

If we learn racism by example, then literature plays an important part in the history of race in America, both negatively and positively. Morrison writes about nineteenth-century literary efforts to romance slavery, contrasting them with the scientific racism of Samuel Cartwright and the banal diaries of the plantation overseer and slaveholder Thomas Thistlewood. She looks at configurations of blackness, notions of racial purity, and the ways in which literature employs skin color to reveal character or drive narrative. Expanding the scope of her concern, she also addresses globalization and the mass movement of peoples in this century. National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates provides a foreword to Morrison's most personal work of nonfiction to date.

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Toni Morrison was born into a working-class family in Lorain, Ohio in the United States. She read a lot as a child and her father's stories, taken from the African-American tradition, later became an element in her own writing. She has studied and taught English at several universities, including Howard University in Washington D.C. From 1964 she worked as a publishing house editor, and since her debut as an author in 1970, she has also held positions at several universities, including Princeton. Toni Morrison has two children from her marriage to Harold Morrison.

Toni Morrison's works revolve around African-Americans; both their history and their situation in our own time. Her works often depict difficult circumstances and the dark side of humanity, but still convey integrity and redemption. The way she reveals the stories of individual lives conveys insight into, understanding of, and empathy for her characters. Toni Morrison's unique narrative technique has developed with each new work. Among her works are her debut novel, The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved.