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Toni Morrison

Nobel laureate Toni Morrison joins us to talk race, war, redemption and her new book, “Home.”

A 2012 photo released by Alfred A. Knopf,  shows author Toni Morrison.  As she gets older, Morrison says, the world becomes more interesting and more distressing.  (AP)

A 2012 photo released by Alfred A. Knopf, shows author Toni Morrison. As she gets older, Morrison says, the world becomes more interesting and more distressing. (AP)

Nobel prize-winning American writer Toni Morrison has spent a lifetime figuring, weighing, dissecting the cost of race and racism in America. As a girl growing up in Ohio and in college days because she had to. She’s 81 now.

It was plainly dangerous not to pay attention in those pre-civil rights days. As a celebrated writer – author of The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Beloved and many more – because there were stories that needed telling. Her latest novel, just out, takes us to the 1950s. It may be Mad Men glamour on TV, but not where Toni Morrison looks.

This hour, On Point: American writer, Toni Morrison.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Toni Morrison, Nobel laureate and author of the new book Home.

From Tom’s Reading List

Detroit Free Press “The Hudson River extends from the back of Toni Morrison’s house, illuminated and infinite, undimmed by an unseasonably drab spring afternoon.”

USA Today “Her 10th novel, Home released Tuesday, features an angry and troubled black Korean War veteran in the 1950s. It’s set mostly in Georgia, where Morrison has never lived. But it’s brought her from her home in New York back to Ohio, where she was born and raised.”

Washington Post “At just 145 pages, this little book about a Korean War vet doesn’t boast the Gothic swell of her masterpiece, “Beloved” (1987), or the luxurious surrealism of her most recent novel, “A Mercy” (2008). But the diminutive size and straightforward style of “Home” are deceptive. This scarily quiet tale packs all the thundering themes Morrison has explored before. She’s never been more concise, though, and that restraint demonstrates the full range of her power.”

Excerpt: Home

HOME by Toni Morrison

Chapter One

They rose up like men. We saw them. Like men they stood.

We shouldn’t have been anywhere near that place. Like most farmland outside Lotus, Georgia, this one here had plenty of scary warning signs. The threats hung from wire mesh fences with wooden stakes every fifty or so feet. But when we saw a crawl space that some animal had dug—a coyote maybe, or a coon dog—we couldn’t resist. Just kids we were. The grass was shoulder high for her and waist high for me so, looking out for snakes, we crawled through it on our bellies. The reward was worth the harm grass juice and clouds of gnats did to our eyes, because there right in front of us, about fifty yards off, they stood like men. Their raised hooves crashing and striking, their manes tossing back from wild white eyes. They bit each other like dogs but when they stood, reared up on their hind legs, their forelegs around the withers of the other, we held our breath in wonder. One was rust-colored, the other deep black, both sunny with sweat. The neighs were not as frightening as the silence following a kick of hind legs into the lifted lips of the opponent. Nearby, colts and mares, indifferent, nibbled grass or looked away. Then it stopped. The rust-colored one dropped his head and pawed the ground while the winner loped off in an arc, nudging the mares before him.

As we elbowed back through the grass looking for the dug-out place, avoiding the line of parked trucks beyond, we lost our way. Although it took forever to re-sight the fence, neither of us panicked until we heard voices, urgent but low. I grabbed her arm and put a finger to my lips. Never lifting our heads, just peeping through the grass, we saw them pull a body from a wheelbarrow and throw it into a hole already waiting. One foot stuck up over the edge and quivered, as though it could get out, as though with a little effort it could break through the dirt being shoveled in. We could not see the faces of the men doing the burying, only their trousers; but we saw the edge of a spade drive the jerking foot down to join the rest of itself. When she saw that black foot with its creamy pink and mud-streaked sole being whacked into the grave, her whole body began to shake. I hugged her shoulders tight and tried to pull her trembling into my own bones because, as a brother four years older, I thought I could handle it. The men were long gone and the moon was a cantaloupe by the time we felt safe enough to disturb even one blade of grass and move on our stomachs, searching for the scooped-out part under the fence. When we got home we expected to be whipped or at least scolded for staying out so late, but the grown-ups did not notice us. Some disturbance had their attention.

Since you’re set on telling my story, whatever you think and whatever you write down, know this: I really forgot about the burial. I only remembered the horses. They were so beautiful. So brutal. And they stood like men.

Excerpted from HOME by Toni Morrison. Copyright © 2012 by Toni Morrison. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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  • Irv West

    I would love to hear Toni Morrison speak to the growing tendency to incarcerate and punish youngsters for minor offenses in schoool . . . disciplinary infractions that would previously have been brought to the prinipal’s attention. The disparity between how White children and those of color receive this harsh punishment is shocking, and says that we have a long way to go until we find justice.

  • Meg from Columbus

    Recently, the Guardian published an interview with Ms. Morrison in which she discussed a thought experiment she had at the age of 17 to understand the type of hatred whites had toward black children during desegregation. She said she had to go beyond the ”species” to begin to understand such hate.I would love to hear the author discuss how either animals or this idea of ”species” factor into her fiction. In Beloved, the male chatacter, Paul D. demands the female protagonist act with ”two feet, not four.” Does Ms. Morrison see her characters challenging humanism which has often been used against people of color?

    • Anne

      Great question.  I hope they get a chance to address this

  • Zero

    I just want to say to Morrison (not that it means much), you are dead on correct about the ending of Huck Finn.

  • Still Here

    Great, an author boosting a book. What a waste of time!  She’s has been plying the same tired line for too long.  She remains out of touch and clueless to reality, mostly because of her current life of excessive privilege which compounds her hypocrisy.  She is completely delusional and suffering from cognitive dissonance, poor thing.  Typical of those of her political persuasion, she wants to impose her views on everyone else.  Reading the excerpt above made me spit up in my mouth a little bit.  Maybe she needs a love life.

    • Josh

      A bit angry and irrational today, are we?

    • Brett

      Wrong thread! Your comment needs to go in the Bay Buchanan forum. 

    • aj

      “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
      -Virginia Woolf

      “Our mothers’ gardens”
      -Alice Walker

       “What then are we to make of Phillis Wheatley, a slave, who owned not even herself? This sickly, frail, Black girl who required a servant of her own at times—her health was so precarious—and who, had she been white, would have been easily considered the intellectual superior of all the women and most of the men in the society of her day.”

      Phillis Wheatley(1753 – December 5, 1784) was the first African-American poet and first African-American woman to publish her writing. Born in Gambia, she was sold into slavery at the age of 7 or 8 and transported to North America. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write, and encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent.

      The publication of Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) brought her fame, both in England, and the Thirteen Colonies; figures such as George Washington praised her work.Wheatley was emancipated after the death of her master John Wheatley.

      She married soon after; she and her husband lost two children as infants. After he was imprisoned for debt in 1784, Wheatley fell into poverty and died of illness, quickly followed by the death of her surviving infant son.

    • Irv

      A bit racist today, are we? Most of Tom’s guests have recently written a book. I cannot help wondering if she had been White and won a pulitzer Prize, would you use the same toxic words? While I am no longer a supporter  of Obama, and feel sold out by him, it is not difficult to identify the same poisoned rhetoric by people upset by his color and the office he holds.

      • aj

        Much obliged.

      • mmaaaxx

        Wow, how typical to assume that “still here” is racist while nothing written would suggest that! Nor did anything have anything to do with Obama…I think Irv is looking to pick a fight–a race right.

        • Zero

          There was a white conservative author on just the other day.  At the very least, “Still Here” isn’t consistent about who he or she criticizes.

        • jazz

           whatever–the tone suggests it–what would make sb feel so angry about one of the greatest writers America has–as a writer I know that the language she uses is something to be admired and studied.  Clearly the still stupid never read her books.  Why would anyone get so angry about any author–except one who speaks for fascists–against the people, against compassion–such as Rand.  Toni doesn’t hate anyone–or write about politics in such ways–her stories are centered on real people in real life–of the 99%–not the 1%.

          But to even have this conversation is absurd.  This is not how she would talk about her books I’m sure. 

          This si really a non-political topic.  can we just talk about literature and Toni’s writing–if you haven’t read it just listen–okay children.  Have some restraint.  Why must every topic become a battle?  How can one be so full of hate?  Not everything is politics.

    • nj_v2

      Did your treatment center install a computer room for you to use?

      • Brett

        Now, now, nj.

        What makes you think it is a computer room? I mean maybe it is just a recreation room with a computer in it!!?! Let’s not be presumptuous. 

    • Jazz

       still here–meaning–im still in the kk.  You know why dont oyu just die?  i doubt you’ve ever read her books.  have you ever written a book?  Have you ever read a book?  I doubt it–something more than glossy commercial formulaic plebeian crap for the illiterate?  I bet you don’t even know who she is.

      What tired line?  Human nature?  The human condition?  Th fact that 65 percent of America is vile murderous racists.  If she is 81 and still remembers, many of these tired old kkk hooodis are still about–still here–, in power, in office, in church and running American politics–and still trying to shut down the democratic process–still murderous and ignorant.

      Listen up –still stupid–most of her writing is about relationships between people of the same background, the same race, the color–examining black politics, black life, black prejudices…and more.

      I cant wait till al the republicans 40 and older are dead–then we can ge ton with life and prosperity in America.

      • Keep your Kool-Aid

        Mr Bigley,
                       I agree that the post you reply to is in poor taste and obviously not immersed in her work, but your reply I must say is equally vile. Your statistics on racism are completely wrong, calling him stupid, and blanket statements about Republicans are those of  intolerance and hatred. If I was to guess, as you did about the previous poster, I would say you were a typical kool-aid drinking liberal who makes the facts fit their picture, instead of trying objectivity independent thought. I will NOT guess though, because then I would be guilty of stereotyping and sound as as ignorant as you do.  

  • Marrsamuse

    While I won’t be voting for Mitt in February, I don’t think we need to make a hig deal out of his high school bullying. There’s enough from his current ans recent actions to keep me from voting for him.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      ???

  • Osullivan

    a beautiful writer. Beloved is a wonderful book. She writes with such understated power. A legend IMHO.

  • Bruce

    Having grown up in the South in the ’60′s, I want to thank On Point for bringing an eloquent voice to this topic. I also had the incredible luck to tour briefly with a Howard alum playing music on the Chitlins Circuit.  While I’m not familiar with her novels, I can certainly identify with some of the themes and insights she offers, and thanks to your show will try to check out her work. 

  • Joan

    It was great to listen to this wise and articulated woman. 

    And she is right on point when she notes “the 21st century is 
    not nice ” filled with war and killing , poverty, rape … 

    I blame the hawks in Washington for this and the Bush /Cheney 
    Whitehouse with their “illegal war” on Iraq (UN , Secretary, kofi Annan, assessment) and expansion of that illegal war into Afghanistan and Libya, Syria and Sudan and beyond today…

    i think it is important to keep in mind here Iraq and Afghanistan had no history of suicide bombing before it was invaded by US Forces ….The same goes for Yemen and other countries today.

    And the truth of the matter–force has rarely ever proven to be 
    effective —at least in the last 60 yrs…See the URL below….

    NOTE THE LIST OF COUNTRIES WHERE FORCE WAS USED…

    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/History+shows+pacifists+aren't+dreamers%3A+in+the+past+20+years,…-a0105480217

  • Joshua Bigley

    i was delighted to see Toni on OnPoint today.  I wish Onpoint would have more big and small literary writers on –we seldom see literary writers on this show–some commercial ones, certainly political non-fiction, and paranormal young adult lit, but we need some of the greats on here–some of the obscure–lets give some airwaves to the lesser known literary writers, but not lesser writers–check out Seven Stories publishing, and   Akashic Books…I want to hear from Don Delillo, Richard Russo, Michel Faber, Haruki Murakami, Amy Tan, Salman Rushdie, Michael Chabon, John Irving, David Guterson, William Gibson, V.S. Naipaul, Michael Ondaatje…And other great writers of commercial lit/crossover lit–Stephen King, Neil Gaiman..Can we have some writers on here even if they are no promoting a new book.  Has Stephen King ever been interviewed–come on Stephen–we want to hear from you!  Gaiman too!  My list of course is not complete… please check out Seven Strories–pick up some lesser known writers writing great stuff–non-corporate!Love you Toni.

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