Toni Morrison

Forty Years in The Clearing

Edited by Carmen Gillespie

Publication date:

30 November 2012

Length of book:

368 pages


Bucknell University Press

ISBN-13: 9781611484915

Toni Morrison, the only living American Nobel laureate in literature, published her first novel in 1970. In the ensuing forty plus years, Morrison’s work has become synonymous with the most significant literary art and intellectual engagements of our time. The publication of Home (May 2012), as well as her 2011 play Desdemona affirm the range and acuity of Morrison’s imagination. Toni Morrison: Forty Years in The Clearing enables audiences/readers, critics, and students to review Morrison’s cultural and literary impacts and to consider the import, and influence of her legacies in her multiple roles as writer, editor, publisher, reader, scholar, artist, and teacher over the last four decades.

Some of the highlights of the collection include contributions from many of the major scholars of Morrison’s canon: as well as art pieces, music, photographs and commentary from poets, Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez; novelist, A.J. Verdelle; playwright, Lydia Diamond; composer, Richard Danielpour; photographer, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders; the first published interview with Morrison’s friends from Howard University, Florence Ladd and Mary Wilburn; and commentary from President Barack Obama.

What distinguishes this book
from the many other publications that engage Morrison’s work is that the collection is not exclusively a work of critical interpretation or reference. This is the first publication to contextualize and to consider the interdisciplinary, artistic, and intellectual impacts of Toni Morrison using the formal fluidity and dynamism that characterize her work. This book adopts Morrison’s metaphor as articulated in her Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, Beloved. The narrative describes the clearing as “a wide-open place cut deep in the woods nobody knew for what. . . . In the heat of every Saturday afternoon, she sat in the clearing while the people waited among the trees.” Morrison’s Clearing is a complicated and dynamic space. Like the intricacies of Morrison’s intellectual and artistic voyages, the Clearing is both verdant and deadly, a sanctuary and a prison. Morrison’s vision invites consideration of these complexities and confronts these most basic human conundrums with courage, resolve and grace. This collection attempts to reproduce the character and spirit of this metaphorical terrain.

Gillespie has collected an impressively varied array of genres for this volume in the "Griot Project Book Series," which looks at the aesthetics, art, history, and culture of African America and the African diaspora. More than a scholarly exploration, the collection celebrates Morrison and her wide influence on other practitioners. There are chapters on Morrison's work in relation to other arts— music, painting, dance—with links to audio tracks from Richard Danielpour's opera Margaret Garner, based on Beloved, and to the poet-musicians Mendi and Keith Obadike's lovely "Praise Song for Toni Morrison," and also poems by Sonia Sanchez and a memoir by Nikki Giovanni. Gillespie includes scholarly pieces by Jan Furman about the relationship between moral knowledge and aesthetics in Morrison's Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, and by Susan Mayberry, who discusses modernism, race, and food in Tar Baby--to cite just two examples of this collection's riches. A chronology and bibliography of Morrison's work are included. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.