ENGL 611-01: Toni Morrison

Section Description:

In 1993, Toni Morrison became the eighth woman, first African American, first African American woman, and first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, the most coveted literary prize. In its citation, the Swedish Academy praised her as one “who, in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” This graduate seminar – Toni Morrison – seeks to identify and to examine that “essential aspect of American reality” in Morrison’s novels and short story—Black lives. For Morrison, Black lives have always mattered, and the essential aspect of her work `is her commitment to the experiences, intricacies and complexities of Black lives in American society. In her novels, Morrison chronicles African American experience from slavery to post-integration. In so doing, she has added not only to the African American literary and cultural landscape but also to the American literary and cultural landscape. We will explore the ways Morrison writes history, nation, family, race, gender, class, sexuality, and religion. As she explains in her Nobel lecture, “official language” represents dominant ideologies, including ideologies that can prevent the circulation of new and generative knowledge and can also hinder the exchange of ideas. Morrison’s works, in many ways, challenge and complicate hegemonic institutions and ideologies that oppress, suppress, and/or exclude non-majority groups. Reading critical essays by scholars as well as Morrison’s own criticism and interviews will assist our understanding and analysis of Morrison’s literary goals. Specifically, we will explore the ways Morrison constructs discourses that expand, refute, resist, and complicate historical discourses and ideologies about Black life. Students will be able to discuss aspects of Toni Morrison’s writing, including, but not limited to, the differences and similarities between Morrison’s texts and how those similarities and differences reflect changing historical, social, and political perspectives. We will examine Morrison’s works from a variety of critical approaches, particularly critical race theory, Black feminist theories, and African American cultural studies. The politics of race will foreground our discussions.