What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction

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What Moves at the Margin collects three decades of Toni Morrison's writings about her work, her life, literature, and American society. The works included in this volume range from 1971, when Morrison (b. 1931) was a new editor at Random House and a beginning novelist, to 2002 when she was a professor at Princeton University and Nobel Laureate. Even in the early days of her career, in between editing other writers, writing her own novels, and raising two children, she found time to speak out on subjects that mattered to her. From the reviews and essays written for major publications to her moving tributes to other writers to the commanding acceptance speeches for major literary awards, Morrison has consistently engaged as a writer outside the margins of her fiction. These works provide a unique glimpse into Morrison's viewpoint as an observer of the world, the arts, and the changing landscape of American culture.

The first section of the book, "Family and History," includes Morrison's writings about her family, Black women, Black history, and her own works. The second section, "Writers and Writing," offers her assessments of writers she admires and books she reviewed, edited at Random House, or gave a special affirmation to with a foreword or an introduction. The final section, "Politics and Society," includes essays and speeches where Morrison addresses issues in American society and the role of language and literature in the national culture.

Among other pieces, this collection includes a reflection on 9/11, reviews of such seminal books by Black writers as Albert Murray's South to a Very Old Place and Gayl Jones's Corregidora, an essay on teaching moral values in the university, a eulogy for James Baldwin, and Morrison's Nobel lecture. Taken together, What Moves at the Margin documents the response to our time by one of American literature's most thoughtful and eloquent writers.

Toni Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor Emerita at the Center for Creative and Performing Arts at Princeton University and is the author of Sula, Song of Solomon, Beloved, Paradise, and other novels. She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature. Carolyn C. Denard is the author of scholarly essays on Toni Morrison and the forthcoming Cambridge Introduction to Toni Morrison. She is Associate Dean of the College at Brown University and founder of the Toni Morrison Society.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Although Morrison's powerful novels on race and identity have secured her literary reputation, the commanding voice of her essays, speeches and reviews offers compelling insights into family, history, other writers and politics. The pieces span from 1971, when Morrison was an editor at Random House, to 2002, the year she won the Nobel Prize, and range from book introductions to thoughts on the nature of writing and reflections on 9/11. In a 1971 New York Times Magazinearticle, Morrison bluntly observes that black women's response to the nascent feminist movement is, "Distrust.... They look at white women and see them as the enemy." Following Toni Cade Bambara's death in 1995, Morrison recalled her friend's writing gift: "Bambara is a writer's writer, an editor's writer, a reader's writer... nothing distracts from the sheer satisfaction her story-telling provides." In a powerful address delivered to the American Writers Congress in 1981, Morrison proclaims, "[W]e don't need any more writers as solitary heroes. We need a heroic writers' movement-assertive, militant, pugnacious." Denard's judicious selections offer eloquent insights into the themes that are the rich ground for Morrison's haunting fiction. 10,000-copy first printing.(Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

This collection of previously published reviews, essays, tributes, and acceptance speeches-artfully arranged, edited, and introduced by Denard (founder, Toni Morrison Soc. of the American Literature Assn.)-makes up a portrait of a woman whom many consider to be one of the greatest authors in American literature. Throughout the work, which covers three decades in three sections-"Family and History," "Writers and Writings," and "Politics and Society"-the prose to which readers of Morrison's fiction (e.g., Sula, Song of Solomon, Beloved) have become accustomed takes on new meaning in the form of commentary, inspiration, and thought-provoking questions. Providing a glimpse into the personal ideals upon which many of Morrison's fiction pieces are based, the collection addresses issues of black history, modern race relationships, slavery, women's liberation, and more. It is an important resource for aspiring writers, Morrison fans, and any African American studies program and is highly recommended for academic libraries as an accompaniment to Morrison's Nobel prize-winning fiction.
—Erin E. Dorney

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781604730173
  • Publisher: University Press of Mississippi
  • Publication date: 4/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 212
  • Sales rank: 484,839
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison
Few contemporary novelists have achieved the venerated status of Toni Morrison. She has written adored modern classics like Beloved and Song of Solomon that daringly blend the supernatural and the natural with an uncommonly poetic eloquence. She is a recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize and the Noble Prize for Literature, and is truly one of America’s most gifted storytellers.


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

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     ix
Introduction     xi
Family and History
A Slow Walk of Trees (as Grandmother Would Say), Hopeless (as Grandfather Would Say)     3
She and Me     15
What the Black Woman Thinks about Women's Lib     18
A Knowing So Deep     31
Behind the Making of The Black Book     34
Rediscovering Black History     39
Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation     56
The Site of Memory     65
Writers and Writing
On Behalf of Henry Dumas     83
Preface to Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions by Toni Cade Bambara     86
James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life in His Language     90
Speaking of Reynolds Price     95
To Be a Black Woman: Review of Portraits in Fact and Fiction     100
The Family Came First: Review of Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow     103
Toni Morrison on a Book She Loves: Gayl Jones's Corregidora     108
Going Home with Bitterness and Joy: Review of South to a Very Old Place by Albert Murray     111
On The Radiance of the King by Camara Laye     118
Foreword to The Harlem Book of the Dead     133
Foreword to Writing Red: An Anthology of American Women Writers, 1930-1940     135
TheFisherwoman: Introduction to A Kind of Rapture: Photographs     138
Politics and Society
On the Backs of Blacks     145
The Talk of the Town     149
The Dead of September 11     154
For a Heroic Writers Movement     156
Remarks Given at the Howard University Charter Day Convocation     164
The Future of Time: Literature and Diminished Expectations     170
The Dancing Mind     187
How Can Values Be Taught in the University     191
The Nobel Lecture in Literature     198
Index     209

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  • Posted October 17, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Fine prose to challenge the head as well as the heart

    This book of essays etc. is a marvelous for it formidable prose as well as insights. I especially enjoyed her piece on the dead of 9-11 as well as her piece on my favorite writer Reynolds Price. She is indeed one of America's greatest writers. Her depth of thought and flare for writing makes this a book to savor.

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