Pulitzer Prize-winner Toni Morrison is one of today's leading novelists, as well as a writer whose African American identity has helped shape her impressive literary contributions. As Jean Strouse, who wrote a Newsweek cover story about her, says, "Morrison hates it when people say she is not a "black writer."' "Of course I'm a black writer. That's like saying Dostoevski's not a Russian writer. They mean I'm not just a black writer, but categories like black writer, woman writer, and Latin American writer aren't marginal anymore. We have to acknowledge that the thing we call "literature' is pluralistic now, just as society ought to be." Toni Morrison's novels show a steady progression not only in artistic skill but also in the range and scope of her subjects and settings. The first three take place in African American communities in dominantly white Lorain, Ohio, where Toni Morrison, as Chloe Anthony Wofford, grew up as a member of a stable family of six headed by a father who often worked three jobs simultaneously in order to support his family during the Depression years. She graduated from Howard University and received a master's degree from Cornell University with her thesis on the theme of suicide in modern literature. She teaches writing at Princeton University. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), is an experimental work that begins haltingly with the Dick-and-Jane language of a grade school primer and slowly develops into a poetically tragic story of a little African American girl, and, by extension, the tragedy of racism, sexual violence, and black self-hatred. Her second novel, Sula (1973), is the story of two women whose deep early friendship is severely tested when one of them returns after a 10-year absence as "a classic type of evil force" to disrupt the community. Song of Solomon (1977) has as central characters a young man named Milkman and his nemesis, Guitar, whose fates are as inextricably linked as those of the young women in Sula. Song of Solomon is a thoughtful work rich in symbols and mythical in its implications as it portrays the complicated hidden histories of African Americans. Yet the book is readable enough to have been chosen a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and as winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for 1977. In Tar Baby (1981) Morrison extends her range to an island in the Caribbean and for the first time allows white characters to play prominent roles along with the black. Tar Baby is essentially a novel of ideas, but the ideas again are conveyed along with a fast-moving narrative with credible characters. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved (1987), a brilliant novel about a fugitive slave woman who murders her infant, Beloved, so that the child will not grow up to become a slave. Her most recent novel, Jazz (1990), continues her powerful explorations of African American communities.
Reynolds Price, the author of numerous volumes of fiction, poetry, memoir, plays, essays, & translation, has won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the William Faulkner Award, & the Levinson, Blumenthal, & Tietjans poetry awards. A member of the American Academy of Arts & Letters & a regular commentator on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered", he lives in Durham, North Carolina.