The Spiritual Depths of Toni Morrison

During Banned Books Week 2022 (September 18-24), library staff across the country drew attention to current and historic attempts to censor and silence authors. Joined by several colleagues in publishing and education, they seek to highlight specific authors and topics that have been targeted in school districts and public libraries across the country by individuals and groups seeking to remove books from the shelves that may be offensive or indoctrinating. One author familiar to many America Readers came many times: she had not one, not two, but three of her books on the “Most Banned” lists: Toni Morrison.

Both lovable And the blue eye It has been repeatedly targeted in recent years for removal from libraries and schools. The former won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1988. Among Morrison’s other novels, Song from Solomonwas awarded the National Book Critics Circle in 1977, but has also been the target of challenges by school boards in three different states.

As Baby Suggs notes in lovable“There is no house in the country that does not fill its beams with some dead nigger grief.”

In 1993, Morrison was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature, and in 2012, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Morrison passed away on August 5, 2019, at the age of 88. A memorial service several months later in New York City included those of Angela Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Fran Lebowitz, Ta Nheisy Coates and Michael Ondaatje.

According to the American Library Association, the most common reasons for challenging books to school reading lists are depictions of LGBT lifestyles, sexual material, controversial religious viewpoints, profanity and content dealing with racism and police brutality. In Morrison’s case, the criticism tends to be more ambiguous – apparently because the real issue is that Morrison’s novels make Whites uncomfortable.

ought to. lovable A difficult book to read, not because the book is filthy, exploitative, or crude, but because it is unrelenting in its depiction of the atrocities inflicted by whites on blacks during and after slavery. The episodic and non-reflective violence of our culture comes through almost every interaction. Morrison does not tell watered-down versions of her stories. Rape, incest, pedophilia, and physical violence are present in her books because they were and still are in the real life of people who look a lot like Morrison’s characters. As Baby Suggs notes in lovable“There is no house in the country that does not fill its beams with some dead nigger grief.”

Boreta Singleton: “Toni Morrison’s characters always find faith in themselves, in God and in life’s circumstances, without always explicitly calling it faith.”

in his book Longing for the absent God, Nick Ripatrazon examines the role of the Catholic faith in the American narrative in the years following the Second Vatican Council. Morrison (who became a Catholic in her teens—”Tony” is a shortened version of her affirmation name, Anthony) supposedly makes strong connections between the suffering of blacks and the suffering of Christ, especially in lovable And the blue eye. He wrote, “Morrison’s theology is one of sentiment: mutilated body, public execution, private penance.”

Morrison’s characters are resilient and powerful, but that’s because they are inevitably in a situation where the alternative is death, either of body or soul. Her characters often thrive in a limited space between the normal and the supernatural. Nadra Little wrote in 2017, “Belief in a world other than one in which blacks are dehumanized and devalued helps her characters thrive, as happened with the Morrison family.” America Article – commodity. “I noted during an interview in 1983 that her characters are highly functional — they are able to navigate everyday life in an ethnically stratified society while also competing with the supernatural. Steeped in African American spiritual traditions, her characters feel at ease when faced with other or unusual forces. This applies especially on lovable And the Song from Solomon. “

In 2021, published Little Toni Morrison’s spiritual visionShe examines the ways in which Morrison’s faith, spirituality, storytelling culture and feminism intersect and complement each other in her books. She also noted that despite the cruel worlds Morrison’s books explore, they all share another common theme: “Healing—through religious conciliation, racial pride, and elder wisdom—is the core of Morrison’s novels,” she wrote.

Poretta Singleton wrote in her review of Toni Morrison’s spiritual vision for America. As Nettle notes, these discoveries lead them to a new realization and moments of deep awareness of life and love. The reader can see God in all aspects of Morrison’s characters’ circumstances–in the ‘magic’, the pain and suffering, and in the call to healing and wholeness that leads to life.”

In 2019 in honor of Morrison at AmericaTia Noelle Pratt has noted how important it is for black readers to have a writer like Morrison, who did not focus her stories from a white perspective or adopt a “white view” in her novel. Instead, she sought to listen to the real experiences of often voiceless people: “Toni Morrison’s work conveyed the pain, sacrifice, and trauma that is so much the experience of African Americans.”

Can we also consider Toni Morrison a Catholic novelist? hosts AmericaJesuital’s Jesuit podcast explore this question with Nadra Little in this 2021 episode.

Nadra Little: “Healing–through syncretism, racial pride, and the wisdom of elders–is the core of Morrison’s imagination.”


Our poetic selection for this week is “A Nun Leaving the Veil” by Julia Alvarez. Readers can view all files AmericaHis poems are published here.

In this place every week, America It features literary reviews and commentaries on a specific author or group of writers (new and old; our archives span over a century), as well as poetry and other offerings from America Media. We hope this gives us an opportunity to provide you with more in-depth coverage of our literary offerings. It also allows us to alert digital subscribers to some of our online content that does not appear in our newsletters.

Other Catholic Book Club columns:

Theophilus Lewis brought the Harlem Renaissance to the pages of America

William Lynch, Greatest American Jesuit You Probably Never Heard Of

Catholic Faith (and Pessimism) by J. R. R. Tolkien

Parish Priest, Sociologist, and Novelist: The Many Imaginations of Father Andrew Greeley

Leonard Finney, the only fired literary editor in America (so far)

Joan Didion: A Chronicler and Consolation of the Horrors of Modern Life

Happy reading!

James T. ken

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