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The Origin of Others

Toni Morrison

ISBN 9780674982628

Publication date: 09/11/2017

America’s foremost novelist reflects on the themes that preoccupy her work and increasingly dominate national and world politics: race, fear, borders, the mass movement of peoples, the desire for belonging. What is race and why does it matter? What motivates the human tendency to construct Others? Why does the presence of Others make us so afraid?

Drawing on her Norton Lectures, Toni Morrison takes up these and other vital questions bearing on identity in The Origin of Others. In her search for answers, the novelist considers her own memories as well as history, politics, and especially literature. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Camara Laye are among the authors she examines. Readers of Morrison’s fiction will welcome her discussions of some of her most celebrated books—Beloved, Paradise, and A Mercy.

If we learn racism by example, then literature plays an important part in the history of race in America, both negatively and positively. Morrison writes about nineteenth-century literary efforts to romance slavery, contrasting them with the scientific racism of Samuel Cartwright and the banal diaries of the plantation overseer and slaveholder Thomas Thistlewood. She looks at configurations of blackness, notions of racial purity, and the ways in which literature employs skin color to reveal character or drive narrative. Expanding the scope of her concern, she also addresses globalization and the mass movement of peoples in this century. National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates provides a foreword to Morrison’s most personal work of nonfiction to date.

Praise

  • Morrison’s new book of essays, The Origin of Others, shows that the sick, sad world in which her novels are set is an old one—one that she yearns to lean out of, one we’re falling right back into instead. The Origin of Others is, at once, a critique, memoir, and writer’s notebook; the Nobel Prize–winning author explicates the observations and inspirations behind some of her most prized novels. The book draws from her Norton Lectures, in which she discusses race, borders, history, and other literary heavyweights such as Flannery O’Connor and Ernest Hemingway. Readers could consider this book a companion to her Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, if they want a pellucid look at the racial minefield throughout American literature.

    —Kaila Philo, The Millions

Authors

  • Toni Morrison (1931–2019) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and a Pulitzer Prize. The author of numerous critically acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction, she was the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus, at Princeton University.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of The Beautiful Struggle and Between the World and Me.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press
  • Foreword by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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