Burn This Book: Notes on Literature and Engagement

Overview

Published in conjunction with the PEN American Center, Burn This Book is a powerful collection of essays that explore the meaning of censorship and the power of literature to inform the way we see the world, and ourselves.

As Americans we often take our freedom of speech for granted. When we talk about censorship we talk about China, the former Soviet Union, or the Middle East. But recent political developments—including the passage of the Patriot Act—have shined a spotlight on ...

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Burn This Book: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word

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Overview

Published in conjunction with the PEN American Center, Burn This Book is a powerful collection of essays that explore the meaning of censorship and the power of literature to inform the way we see the world, and ourselves.

As Americans we often take our freedom of speech for granted. When we talk about censorship we talk about China, the former Soviet Union, or the Middle East. But recent political developments—including the passage of the Patriot Act—have shined a spotlight on profound acts of censorship in our own backyard. Burn This Book features a sterling roster of award-winning writers offering their incisive, uncensored views on this most essential topic, including such revered literary heavyweights as Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk, David Grossman, and Nadine Gordimer, among others.

Both provocative and timely, Burn This Book is certain to inspire strong opinions and ignite spirited, serious dialogue.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061774010
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/11/2012
  • Pages: 118
  • Sales rank: 484,754
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She is the author of many novels, including Sula, Song of Solomon, Beloved, and, most recently, A Mercy. She has also received the National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize for her fiction.

Biography

Toni Morrison has been called "black America's best novelist," and her incredible string of imaginative contemporary classics would suggest that she is actually one of America's best novelists regardless of race. Be that as it may, it is indeed difficult to disconnect Morrison's work from racial issues, as they lie at the heart of her most enduring novels.

Growing up in Lorain, Ohio, a milieu Jet magazine described as "mixed and sometimes hostile," Morrison experienced racism firsthand. (When she was still a toddler, her home was set on fire with her family inside.) Yet, her father instilled in her a great sense of dignity, a cultural pride that would permeate her writing. She distinguished herself in school, graduating from Howard and Cornell Universities with bachelor's and master's degrees in English; in addition to her career as a writer, she has taught at several colleges and universities, lectured widely, and worked in publishing.

Morrison made her literary debut in 1970 with The Bluest Eye, the story of a lonely 11-year-old black girl who prays that God will turn her eyes blue, in the naïve belief that this transformation will change her miserable life. As the tale unfolds, her life does change, but in ways almost too tragic and devastating to contemplate. On its publication, the book received mixed reviews; but John Leonard of The New York Times recognized the brilliance of Morrison's writing, describing her prose as "...so precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry."

Over time, Morrison's talent became self-evident, and her reputation grew with each successive book. Her second novel, Sula, was nominated for a National Book Award; her third, 1977's Song of Solomon, established her as a true literary force. Shot through with the mythology and African-American folklore that informed Morrison's childhood in Ohio, this contemporary folktale is notable for its blending of supernatural and realistic elements. It was reviewed rapturously and went on win a National Book Critics Circle Award.

The culmination of Morrison's storytelling skills, and the book most often considered her masterpiece, is Beloved. Published in 1987 and inspired by an incident from history, this post-Civil War ghost story tells the story of Sethe, a former runaway slave who murdered her baby daughter rather than condemn her to a life of slavery. Now, 18 years later, Sethe and her family are haunted by the spirit of the dead child. Heartbreaking and harrowing, Beloved grapples with mythic themes of love and loss, family and freedom, grief and guilt, while excavating the tragic, shameful legacy of slavery. The novel so moved Morrison's literary peers that 48 of them signed an open letter published in The New York Times, demanding that she be recognized for this towering achievement. The book went on to win the Pulitzer Prize; and in 2006, it was selected by The New York Times as the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years.

In addition to her extraordinary novels, Morrison has also written a play, short stories, a children's book, and copious nonfiction, including essays, reviews, and literary and social criticism. While she has made her name by addressing important African-American themes, her narrative power and epic sweep have won her a wide and diverse audience. She cannot be dismissed as a "black writer" any more than we can shoehorn Faulkner's fiction into "southern literature." Fittingly, she received the Nobel Prize in 1993; perhaps the true power of her impressive body of work is best summed up in the Swedish Academy's citation, which reads: "To Toni Morrison, who, in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."

Good To Know

Chloe Anthony Wofford chose to publish her first novel under the name Toni Morrison because she believed that Toni was easier to pronounce than Chloe. Morrison later regretted assuming the nom de plume.

In 1986, the first production of Morrison's sole play Dreaming Emmett was staged. The play was based on the story of Emmett Till, a black teen murdered by racists in 1955.

Morrison's prestigious status is not limited to her revered novels or her multitude of awards. She also holds a chair at Princeton University.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Chloe Anthony Wofford (real name)
      Toni Morrison
    2. Hometown:
      Princeton, New Jersey, and Manhattan
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 18, 1931
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lorain, Ohio
    1. Education:
      Howard University, B.A. in English, 1953; Cornell, M.A., 1955

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 26, 2009

    Good book to read

    I liked this book very much because of its subject matter and the intellectual stimulation I get while reading it. And I highly recommend it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    One to return

    For some reason, I thought that this was a collection of short stories from well known authors like Toni Morrison (whom I love). In actuality, the book only includes essays on the importance of writing and writers. I read half of them and found them relatively useless. It's the kind of thing one would assign in a college course, but certainly not something to read outside of academia.

    Must find my receipt so I can return this...

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Support PEN!

    Because this is a short book of essays, some previously published, I can't talk about character or plot or information conveyed or anything like that. However, I can attest to the power of each writer's message - that words are important and writers are important. Each short piece brings a different aspect, whether writing of oppression or protest or catharsis. A high point is Ed Park's essay on censorship rendered in the form of Cormier's "I am the Cheese." Support PEN!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

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