Toni and Oprah
[Re: Book Review, “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” May 24-30] It would’ve been helpful to your readers if Sam Adams had mentioned that Toni Morrison was the first and only African-American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature by the Swedish Academy in 1993, who said that her novels had reclaimed black history. In addition, her debut novel, The Bluest Eye, was first published in 1970 well before Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club ever acknowledged her work. Since the ’70s, Morrison has the unusual distinction of being both a critically acclaimed and a popular writer, one who is highly regarded by the literati, the academy and millions of fans.
Henry Louis Gates said that Morrison’s work was imbued with magical naturalism. She majored in English at Howard University, the esteemed black university in Washington, D.C., and received a master's degree at Cornell University. Her thesis was on William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. As a senior editor at Random House, she collaborated with black writers like Gayl Jones, Toni Cade Bambara, June Jordan and Angela Davis, so she had a direct hand in nurturing the emergent black women authors of the ’70s—again well before “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
I have not yet read Home, but share Adams’ disappointment in Morrison’s work after Beloved when the author seemed intent on documenting black history decade by decade in didactic, nearly essayistic form, and the rapturous language of the earlier work was replaced by a high rhetorical style. It's my belief that, in the end, four novels will be judged Morrison’s essential oeuvre: The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved.