Nora/ August 9, 2019/ Walker's Bookshelf

“They reach, grown people, for something beyond, way beyond and way, way down underneath tissue. They are remembering while they whisper the carnival dolls they won and the Baltimore boats they never sailed on. The pears they let hang on the limb because if they plucked them, they would be gone from there and who else would see that ripeness if they took it away for themselves? How could anybody passing by see them and imagine for themselves what the flavour would be like?” 

– Jazz, Toni Morrison 

Image source: Paris Review

From the publication of The Bluest Eye in 1970 to her death at age 88 this week, author Toni Morrison has let her words dangle in front of us, there to be appreciated, to help us imagine their flavour and meaning. If it’s possible to be a self-less writer, perhaps this was Morrison’s greatest feat, beyond her Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, and countless other accolades. There is a sense of compassionate education throughout her work, a powerful examination of both the beauty and horror of the human experience that forces readers to confront truth and to revel in the resonance of her language. Morrison’s work has always dealt heavily with reality, particularly concerning racism, misogyny, and poverty, yet there is a quality of magical realism that permeates many of her novels that makes her handling of these issues markedly unique. Morrison’s novels can be—and have been—the subject of endless critical examination. At the same time, they can be immediately absorbed into the veins. 

Morrison’s books have won the highest honors, found their way into countless high school classrooms, and made it into the realm of popular literature as Oprah’s Book Club picks and bestsellers. She has written for adults, she has written for children. She has written to express pain, she has written to raise awareness. She has written about the Black experience for both those who can identify and those who can learn from it. She has written to give voice to herself, she has written to give voice to others. As an editor and educator, Morrison has also worked to enliven the thoughts and words of others. 

Whether you are looking to re-engage with an old favorite or discover a work you’ve never read, here are a number of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books by one of the world’s most accomplished writers.  

Fiction 

Beloved 

Morrison encapsulates the horror of slavery and the consuming passion of motherhood in a single act of defiance by a runaway slave. The pivotal event occurs when Sethe, the slave, murders her infant daughter rather than permit her recapture. The story of Sethe’s violation, her determined escape, and its horrific consequences is slowly played out in memory and gossip, as Morrison hints at the terrible secret in the woman’s past — a legacy so dreadful that she has alienated the black community, driven off her two sons, and sent her remaining daughter into her own form of exile. – Booklist 

The Bluest Eye 

Eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove, an African-American girl in an America whose love for blonde, blue-eyed children can devastate all others, prays for her eyes to turn blue, so that she will be beautiful, people will notice her, and her world will be different. – NoveList Plus 

God Help the Child 

In Morrison’s short, emotionally-wrenching novel, her first since 2012’s Home, a mother learns about the  damage adults do to children and the choices children make as they grow to suppress, express, or overcome their shame… Nobel laureate Morrison explores characteristic themes of people held captive by inner struggles; the delusion of racism; violence and redemption. – Publishers Weekly 

Home 

Frank Money was damaged emotionally as well as physically while fighting in Korea, then returns home to an America as racist as ever. What saves him from utter despair is the need to rescue his equally damaged sister and bring her back to their small Georgia town, a place he has always despised. But thinking over the past both near (the war) and far (his childhood) allows him to rediscover his sense of purpose. – Library Journal 

Jazz 

In Harlem, 1926, Joe Trace, a door-to-door salesman in his fifties, kills his teenage lover. A profound love story which depicts the sights and sounds of Black urban life during the Jazz Age. – NoveList Plus 

Song of Solomon 

Morrison… unravels the mysterious chain of being in a black American family in this book of  genealogical revelations. Powerful confrontations dominate the action, as a young son leaves his northern home on a quest for personal freedom that unexpectedly divulges the emotional riches of his roots. – Booklist 

Sula 

At the heart of Sula is a bond between two women, a friendship whose intensity first sustains, then injures. Sula and Nel are both black, both smart, and both poor. Through their girlhood years, they share everything. All this changes when Sula gets out of the Bottom, the hilltop neighborhood where there hides a fierce resentment at the invisible line that cannot be overstepped. – NoveList Plus 

Tar Baby 

On a tropical island paradise, six people interact with each other in all the tender or hateful ways that human beings are capable of. Rich and poor, black and white, young and old, male and female, each has something to teach the others — and each has something to learn. – NoveList Plus 

Nonfiction 

The Origin of Others 

What is race and why does it matter? Why does the presence of Others make us so afraid? America’s foremost novelist reflects on themes that preoccupy her work and dominate politics: race, fear, borders, mass movement of peoples, desire for belonging. – NoveList Plus 

The Source of Self-Regard 

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Morrison presents a rich collection of essays from 1976 to 2013, primarily speeches given at college convocations, lectures series, conferences, commencement addresses, and  symposiums, among other occasions. Topics vary, reflecting the intellectual curiosity and pursuits of the author. – Library Journal 

Children’s Books 

The Big Box 

In this first story for children by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, parents, teachers, and other adults determine the boundaries of personal freedom for Patty and Mickey and Liza Sue, three feisty kids “who just can’t handle their freedom….” The Big Box will leave readers cheering for Patty and Mickey and Liza Sue—and for all children who let their innocence and ingenuity shine. – From the inside cover 

Little Cloud and Lady Wind 

Little Cloud likes her own place in the sky, away from the other clouds. There, the sky is all hers. She is free to make her own way and go where she wishes. Can Lady Wind show Little Cloud the power of being with others? Will Little Cloud agree there is strength in unity and change her ways? – From the publisher 

Peeny Butter Fudge 

Joyful exuberance abounds in this mother-son collaboration that celebrates family ties and the joys of eating peanut-butter fudge. – Kirkus Reviews 

Share this Post