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Toni Morrison: A Tribute to a great American

Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Toni Morrison, the author of such acclaimed works as Song of Solomon, Beloved, Jazz, The Bluest Eye, Paradise,, and Love, died today at the age of 88.

I credit Oprah Winfrey for getting me interested in Morrison’s work and I must say, I was as interested in watching her in television interviews as I was in reading her books. She was so wise, had some much to say – particularly about race.

I learned a lot from her and her words are particularly meaningful at this time as our country is so clearly still racially divided. A few months ago, I saw the documentary Toni Morrison: Pieces of Me at ArcLight in Hollywood and was especially struck by portions of a 1993 interview Morrison did with Charlie Rose. You can watch that part in the second video at the 37:00 mark.

She spoke of racism: “People who practice racism are bereft. There is something distorted about their psyche. … It’s like a profound neurosis that nobody examines for what it is. It feels crazy. It is crazy.”

She asks of the racist person: “Who are you without racism? Are you any good? Are you still strong? Are you still smart? Do you still like yourself? If you can only be tall because somebody’s on their knees, you have a serious problem. And my feeling is white people have a very, very serious problem, and they should start thinking about what they can do about it.”

The first video is a profile for CBS Sunday Morning which aired on April 4, 2004. The writer talked with correspondent Martha Teichner about her youth and education, and about the two most important things in her life: to mother her children, and to write.

We lost a great woman today but her wise words live on.

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Time is no match for Toni Morrison. In her writing, she sometimes toyed with it, warping and creasing it, bending it to her masterful will. In her life’s story, too, she treated time nontraditionally. A child of the Great Migration who’d lifted up new, more diverse voices in American literature as an editor, Toni didn’t publish her first novel until she was 39 years old. From there followed an ascendant career—a Pulitzer, a Nobel, and so much more—and with it, a fusion of the African American story within the American story. Toni Morrison was a national treasure. Her writing was not just beautiful but meaningful—a challenge to our conscience and a call to greater empathy. She was as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page. And so even as Michelle and I mourn her loss and send our warmest sympathies to her family and friends, we know that her stories—that our stories—will always be with us, and with those who come after, and on and on, for all time.

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