Saturday, November 1, 2008
don't forget this month--Toni Morrison's new novel A Mercy debuts
Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison reads from new book 'A Mercy'
By Omar Carrillo
Photo by Lucy Minott
Toni Morrison, emerita professor and Nobel Prize winner, read from her latest novel, “A Mercy,” in Richardson Auditorium on Tuesday evening. Emotionally provocative scenes from Toni Morrison’s newest book, “A Mercy,” silenced a packed Alexander Hall on Tuesday evening, as she illustrated to the assembled crowd the ubiquity of slavery in civilization’s history.
Her ninth book stemmed from her interest in “what might it be like to have slavery without race, without racism,” said Morrison, who is an emerita professor in the Lewis Center for the Arts.
“It’s something that we’re not born with. It has to be taught, learned, seen, and there’s no civilization that did not rest in slavery, whether they call it that or not,” she said, noting that American society traditionally thinks of slavery in racial terms.
Though she said she is not the first to explore this theme, “even unoriginal thought can lead to extraordinary and original places,” she explained.
Morrison won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, and her novel “Beloved” was named “the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years” by The New York Times Book Review in 2006.
Given standing ovations before and after the reading, Morrison retained the undivided attention of students, professors and community members from the first word to the last sentence of her reading.
Morrison chose three excerpts from the book, scheduled to be released in November. Each passage reflected a different voice and represented the beginning, middle and end of the novel.
The excerpts also reflected Morrison’s insights into women’s place in slavery, and she read several passages in the voice of female slaves living during the 18th century.
One of the excerpts was from the perspective of a mother in slavery. She explains her situation after giving her child, Florence, one of the novel’s main characters, to a plantation owner.
“To be female in this place is to be an open wound that will not heal,” Morrison said, reading the character’s words aloud.
The book also addresses the impact of religion on the slave experience.
In the novel, Florence is taught by a religious figure. “Reverend Father [who] is the only kind man I ever see,” she says in the novel.
Morrison also read a passage in the voice of Florence’s mother, as she considers the relationship between human and divine action.
“It was not a miracle bestowed by God, it was a mercy offered by a human,” Morrison read as Florence’s mother.
Morrison’s calm yet piercing voice won the admiration of both old and new fans.
“The book seems so interesting and the excerpts at the end are so powerful,” Maraiya Hakeem ’12 said. “I am definitely looking forward to buying it.”
Gideon Rosen GS ’92, chair of the Council of the Humanities, introduced Morrison and thanked her for everything she has brought to Princeton.
“Toni Morrison books are set in the past, but today more than ever, we can all say we live in Toni Morrison’s America,” Rosen said.
In his introduction, Rosen quoted Morrison’s letter of endorsement of presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) to illustrate the power of her words.
“ ‘Our future is ripe, outrageously rich in its possibilities. Yet unleashing the glory of that future will require a difficult labor, and some may be so frightened of its birth they will refuse to abandon their nostalgia for the womb,’ ” Rosen said, quoting Morrison’s letter.
The reading was co-sponsored by the Council of the Humanities and the Center for African American Studies.