Toni Morrison, the Nobel laureate in literature whose best-selling work explored black identity in America and in particular the often crushing experience of black women through luminous, incantatory prose resembling that of no other writer in English, died on Monday in the Bronx. She was 88.
Her death, at Montefiore Medical Center, was announced by her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. A spokeswoman said the cause was complications of pneumonia. Ms. Morrison lived in Grand View-on-Hudson, N.Y.
The first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1993, Ms. Morrison was the author of 11 novels as well as children’s books and essay collections. Among them were celebrated works like “Song of Solomon,” which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977, and “Beloved,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.
Ms. Morrison was one of the rare American authors whose books were both critical and commercial successes. Her novels appeared regularly on the New York Times best-seller list, were featured multiple times on Oprah Winfrey’s television book club and were the subject of myriad critical studies. A longtime faculty member at Princeton, Ms. Morrison lectured widely and was seen often on television.
In awarding her the Nobel, the Swedish Academy cited her “novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import,” through which she “gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”
Ms. Morrison animated that reality in prose that rings with the cadences of black oral tradition. Her plots are dreamlike and nonlinear, spooling backward and forward in time as though characters bring the entire weight of history to bear on their every act.
Her narratives mingle the voices of men, women, children and even ghosts in layered polyphony. Myth, magic and superstition are inextricably intertwined with everyday verities, a technique that caused Ms. Morrison’s novels to be likened often to those of Latin American magic realist writers like Gabriel García Márquez.
In “Sula,” a woman blithely lets a train run over her leg for the insurance money it will give her family. In “Song of Solomon,” a baby girl is named Pilate by her father, who “had thumbed through the Bible, and since he could not read a word, chose a group of letters that seemed to him strong and handsome.” In “Beloved,” the specter of a murdered child takes up residence in the house of her murderer.
Throughout Ms. Morrison’s work, elements like these coalesce around her abiding concern with slavery and its legacy. In her fiction, the past is often manifest in a harrowing present — a world of alcoholism, rape, incest and murder, recounted in unflinching detail.
It is a world, Ms. Morrison writes in “Beloved” (the novel is set in the 19th century but stands as a metaphor for the 20th), in which “anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind.”
“Not just work, kill or maim you, but dirty you,” she goes on. “Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up.”
But as Ms. Morrison’s writing also makes clear, the past is just as strongly manifest in the bonds of family, community and race — bonds that let culture, identity and a sense of belonging be transmitted from parents to children to grandchildren. These generational links, her work unfailingly suggests, form the only salutary chains in human experience.
“She is a friend of my mind,” a character in “Beloved,” a former slave, thinks about the woman he loves. “She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”
A First Doomed Heroine
Ms. Morrison’s singular approach to narrative is evident in her first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” written in stolen moments between her day job as a book editor and her life as the single mother of two young sons. Published in 1970, it is narrated by Claudia McTeer, a black girl in Ohio, who with her sister, Frieda, is the product of a strict but loving home.
The novel’s doomed heroine is their friend Pecola Breedlove, who at 11, growing up in an America inundated with images of Shirley Temple and Dick and Jane, believes she is ugly and prays for the one thing she is sure will save her: blue eyes.
In a drunken, savagely misguided attempt to show Pecola she is desirable, her father rapes her, leaving her pregnant. Now an outcast both in the community and within her own fractured family, Pecola descends into madness, believing herself possessed of blue eyes at last.
Reviewing the novel in The New York Times, John Leonard commended Ms. Morrison for telling the story “with a prose so precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry.”
The novel prefigures much of Ms. Morrison’s later work in its preoccupation with history — often painful — as seen through the lens of an individual life; with characters’ quests, tragic or successful, for their place in the world; with the redemptive power of community; and with the role women play in the survival of such communities.
Ms. Morrison explored these themes even more overtly in her second novel, “Sula” (1973), about the return of a young woman, now a scandalous temptress, to her Midwestern hometown and the ostracism she confronts there, and in her third, “Song of Solomon” (1977), the book that cemented her reputation.
That book, Ms. Morrison’s first to feature a male protagonist, centers on the journey, literal and spiritual, of a young Michigan man, Macon Dead III.
Macon is known familiarly as Milkman, a bitter nickname stemming from the widespread knowledge that his unhappy, neurasthenic mother, “the daughter of the richest Negro doctor in town,” breast-fed him long past babyhood. (In “Song of Solomon” as in “Sula,” Ms. Morrison depicts black bourgeois life as one of arid atomization.)
The novel chronicles Milkman’s journey through rural Pennsylvania, a trip nominally undertaken to recover a cache of gold said to have belonged to his family, but ultimately a voyage in pursuit of self.
“Song of Solomon” was chosen as a main selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club, the first novel by a black author to be so honored since Richard Wright’s “Native Son” in 1940.
‘Beloved’: Her Masterwork
Ms. Morrison published “Beloved,” widely considered her masterwork, in 1987. The first of her novels to have an overtly historical setting, the book — rooted in a real 19th-century tragedy — unfolds about a decade after the end of the Civil War.
Before the war, Sethe, a slave, had escaped from the Kentucky plantation on which she worked and crossed the Ohio River to Cincinnati. She also spirited out her baby daughter, not yet 2.
“Sethe had twenty-eight days — the travel of one whole moon — of unslaved life,” Ms. Morrison wrote. “From the pure clear stream of spit that the little girl dribbled into her face to her oily blood was twenty-eight days. Days of healing, ease and real- talk. Days of company: knowing the names of forty, fifty other Negroes, their views, habits; where they had been and what done; of feeling their fun and sorrow along with her own, which made it better. One taught her the alphabet; another a stitch. All taught her how it felt to wake up at dawn and decide what to do with the day.”
Then a slave catcher tracks Sethe down. Cornered, she cuts her daughter’s throat rather than see her returned to a life of degradation.
Eighteen years pass. Sethe has been saved from the gallows by white Abolitionists and is later freed from jail with their help. She has resumed her life in Cincinnati with her surviving daughter, Denver, with whom she was pregnant when she fled Kentucky.
One day, a strange, nearly silent young woman a little older than Denver materializes at their door. Known only as Beloved, she moves into the house and insinuates herself into every facet of their existence.
“Beloved, she my daughter,” Sethe realizes in a stream-of-consciousness monologue toward the end of the book. “She mine. See. She come back to me of her own free will and I don’t have to explain a thing. I didn’t have time to explain before because it had to be done quick. Quick. She had to be safe and I put her where she would be.”
Widely acclaimed by book critics, “Beloved” was made into a 1998 feature film directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Ms. Winfrey.
For mid-20th-century readers, one of the most striking things about Ms. Morrison’s workwas that it delineates a world in which white people are largely absent, a relatively rare thing in fiction of the period.
What was more, the milieu of her books, typically small-town and Midwestern, “offers an escape from stereotyped black settings,” as she said in an interview in “Conversations With Toni Morrison” (1994; edited by Danielle Taylor-Guthrie), adding, “It is neither plantation nor ghetto.”
Origins of a Nickname
It was in just such a setting that Ms. Morrison herself was reared. The daughter of George Wofford and Ella Ramah (Willis) Wofford, she was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford on Feb. 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, an integrated working-class community about 30 miles west of Cleveland.
George Wofford was a shipyard welder who took such pride in his work that, according to many accounts of Ms. Morrison’s life, when he finished a perfect seam he would write his initials on it, where they endured, unseen, in the skeleton of the ship.
Young Chloe grew up in a house suffused with narrative and superstition. She adored listening to ghost stories; her grandmother ritually consulted a book on dream interpretation, from which she divined the day’s selections when she played the numbers.
At 12, Chloe joined the Roman Catholic Church. She took the baptismal name Anthony, becoming known as Chloe Anthony Wofford.
That name would be the seed from which her nickname would spring a few years later, when she was an undergraduate at Howard University in Washington. She began calling herself Toni then, she said, because her classmates found the name Chloe bewildering.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Howard with a major in English and a minor in classics in 1953, she earned a master’s in English from Cornell in 1955. She taught English for two years at Texas Southern University, a historically black institution in Houston, before returning to Howard as a faculty member.
There, she joined a fiction workshop and began writing in earnest. Required to bring a sample to a workshop meeting, she began work on a story about a black girl who craves blue eyes — the kernel of her first novel.
In 1958, she married Harold Morrison, an architect from Jamaica; they were divorced in 1964. In interviews, Ms. Morrison rarely spoke of the marriage, though she intimated that her husband had wanted a traditional 1950s wife — and that, she could never be.
After her divorce, Ms. Morrison moved with her sons to Syracuse, where she took a job as an editor with a textbook division of Random House. A stranger in the city, she found herself achingly lonely. In the interstices between work and motherhood, she began turning her short story into “The Bluest Eye.”
In the late 1960s, Ms. Morrison moved to New York City and took an editorial position with Random House’s trade-book division. Over the nearly two decades she held the post, her authors included Angela Davis, Gayl Jones, Toni Cade Bambara and Muhammad Ali.
“I look very hard for black fiction because I want to participate in developing a canon of black work,” Ms. Morrison said in an interview quoted in The Dictionary of Literary Biography. “We’ve had the first rush of black entertainment, where blacks were writing for whites, and whites were encouraging this kind of self-flagellation. Now we can get down to the craft of writing, where black people are talking to black people.”
One of the nonfiction projects on which she worked at Random House was “The Black Book,” published in 1974. Compiled by Ms. Morrison, the volume is a lavishly illustrated scrapbook spanning three centuries of African-American history, reproducing newspaper clippings, photographs, advertisements, handbills and the like.
Researching the book, Ms. Morrison came across a 19th-century article about a fugitive slave named Margaret Garner who, on the point of recapture near Cincinnati, killed her infant daughter. More than a decade after “The Black Book” appeared, the story would become the armature of “Beloved.”
A Letter and a Prize
Critical response to “Beloved” was overwhelmingly positive, though not uniformly so. In a corrosive review in The New Republic, the African-American critic Stanley Crouch called it “a blackface holocaust novel,” adding: “The world exists in a purple haze of overstatement, of false voices, of strained homilies; nothing very subtle is ever really tried. ‘Beloved’ reads largely like a melodrama lashed to the structural conceits of the miniseries.”
But the preponderance of opinion was on the other side. In January 1988, in the wake of the novel’s publication, The Times Book Review published an open letter signed by two dozen black writers, among them Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, Arnold Rampersad and Alice Walker, lauding Ms. Morrison and protesting the fact that she had “yet to receive the keystone honors of the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prize.”
“Beloved” won the Pulitzer Prize that April. In 2006, after polling hundreds of writers, editors and critics, The Book Review named the novel the best American work of fiction of the previous quarter-century.
Ms. Morrison’s fourth novel, “Tar Baby” (1981), deals explicitly with issues of racial and class prejudice among black people. Set on a Caribbean island, it chronicles the love affair of a cosmopolitan, European-educated black woman with a rough-and-tumble local man.
Her other novels include “Jazz” (1992), set in 1920s New York; “A Mercy” (2008), which divorces the institution of slavery from ideas of race by setting the narrative in the 17th century, where servitude, black or white, was apt to be determined by class; and “Home” (2012), about a black Korean War veteran’s struggles on returning to the Jim Crow South.
Ms. Morrison’s volumes of nonfiction include “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination” (1992) and “What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction” (2008, edited by Carolyn C. Denard).
She wrote the libretto for “Margaret Garner,” an opera by Richard Danielpour that received its world premiere at the Detroit Opera House in 2005 with the mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves in the title role.
In 1989, Ms. Morrison joined the faculty of Princeton, where she taught courses in the humanities and African American studies, and was a member of the creative writing program. She went on emeritus status in 2006.
Ms. Morrison is survived by her son Harold Ford Morrison and three grandchildren. Another son, Slade, with whom she collaborated on the texts of many books for children, died in 2010.
Her other laurels include the National Humanities Medal in 2000 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented in 2012 by President Barack Obama. The Toni Morrison Society, devoted to the study of her life and work, was founded in 1993.
If there is a unifying thread running through Ms. Morrison’s writing, it is perhaps nowhere more vivid than in “Song of Solomon.” At novel’s end, after his odyssey through his ancestral past, Milkman has attained the knowledge that lets him situate himself within his family, the larger community and black America.
And with that, on the book’s final page, he leaps into the air, taking symbolic flight over a world in which he has found his place at last.
Antonio Brown arrives for deposition in beach condo lawsuit
This is some wild and I mean wild … footage of Antonio Brown furniture-throwing tirade at The Mansions condo complex from April 2018 has surfaced — and it’s even crazier than we imagined.
You can see at least 4 large items come flying off the balcony into the condo’s pool area … smashing stuff on the way down, in surveillance footage obtained by WSVN.
You can see people running for safety as furniture comes raining down.
Unemployed NFL wide receiver Antonio Brown isn’t spending his Tuesday getting ready for a game — he just walked into a Miami office to sit for a deposition in a lawsuit where he’s accused of trashing a luxury apartment.
As we previously reported, AB is being sued by the owners of The Mansions at Acqualina in the Miami area, where he was accused of wrecking his $35k-per-month unit and not paying for the damages.
Brown allegedly leased the place from Feb. 2018 to July 2018.
In the lawsuit, the condo owners claim they found broken or defaced furnishings — including a leather couch, silk-covered sofas and appliances. They also claim AB damaged the walls and flooring so badly, they needed to repaint the place.
Brown has previously denied the allegations and vowed to fight the case. In fact, Brown filed a counterclaim against the condo claiming his unit was burglarized in April 2018 due to lack of security at the complex. Brown filed multiple police reports claiming the burglars entered his place without permission and stole $80k in cash and a 9mm firearm while he was out of town.
AB arrived for his deposition on Tuesday morning with his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, by his side — along with his attorney, Darren Heitner.
The former New England Patriots star was dressed in a black tracksuit and was smiling and using his phone to record the media throng waiting for him as he arrived.
In other words, he didn’t seem worried at all.
Leave it to Antonio Brown to record himself while walking into court pic.twitter.com/umtl7qdLEJ
— Dakota Randall (@DakRandall) September 24, 2019
If The Mansions sounds familiar, it’s the same place where Brown was accused of going on a furniture-throwing tirade back in 2018 … and almost smashing a 22-month-old child.
Brown was sued by the family of the kid who says Brown was launching furniture off his balcony and only missed hitting the child and his grandfather by “a mere foot or two.”
Brown struck a settlement with the family — agreeing to put money in the kid’s college fund and also donate to a charity.
Britney Spears’ Dad Jamie Officially Steps Down as Her Conservator
Britney Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, has officially stepped down as the singer’s conservator.
After previously petitioning the court to hand over the reins of the singer’s conservatorship citing ongoing health issues, a judge on Monday approved the request and appointed Britney’s longtime care manager, Jodi Montgomery, as the singer’s new conservatory, according to court documents obtained by ET.
According to the documents, Jodi Montgomery has been temporarily granted the same powers previously granted to Jamie, including the power to restrict and limit visitors by any means — provided that Jodi will not prevent Britney from meeting with her court-appointed attorney — and the power to retain caretakers and security guards for Britney on an around-the-clock basis.
The new conservatory will also have the power to prosecute civil harassment restraining orders that Britney deems appropriate, and she will have the power to communicate with all expert medical personnel treating Britney, as well as access to any and all records regarding Britney’s medical treatment, diagnosis, and testing.
According to the court documents, Montgomery will serve as Britney’s temporary conservator until Jan. 31, 2020, after which time her role as temporary conservator could be extended.
Jamie has been the 37-year-old singer’s conservator since 2008, and he became her sole conservator this year after his former co-conservator, attorney Andrew Wallet, resigned in March.
ET has reached out to attorneys for both Jamie and Britney for comment.
The legal filing comes after Britney’s two sons — Sean, 13, and Jayden, 12 — were granted a temporary restraining order against Jamie, a source told ET on Wednesday. The source claimed that an incident occurred on Aug. 24, in which Jamie allegedly “engaged in conduct that was physical abuse” toward Sean. According to the source, the very next day, Kevin Federline — Sean and Jayden’s father — and Federline’s divorce attorney, Mark Vincent Kaplan, filed a police report at the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
According to Kaplan, “Britney recognized the children were in a dangerous situation and she demonstrated the correct parental judgment by removing them from it.” ET also reached out to Federline’s attorney on Friday.
LAPD opens internal affairs inquiry in Nipsey Hussle murder
Los Angeles police have opened an internal affairs investigation into why the woman who drove the getaway car in the aftermath of rapper Nipsey Hussle’s killing was sent home when she tried to turn herself in during the manhunt for the shooter.
The LAPD’s Office of the Inspector General confirmed Monday that the Internal Affairs Group is investigating a desk officer’s response at the 77th Street station. Capt. Gisselle Espinoza, an LAPD spokeswoman, said the matter is under administrative investigation and she couldn’t release more details.
Grand jury testimony shows the woman who drove the suspect, Eric R. Holder, away from the March 31 shooting had gone to the station because her car and license plate were on the news.
“Oh my God,” the woman, whose name has not been released, testified that she told her mother. “My car is on here and everything, and I didn’t do anything. I didn’t know this boy was gonna do this.”
Her mother called police but was told detectives wouldn’t be available until 6 a.m. the next day, grand jury transcripts show.
When they arrived at the station the next morning, the front desk officer said “don’t worry about it” and “don’t listen to the news,” the transcript shows. The woman left the station, returning later to speak to detectives after her mother called police again.
LAPD Detective Cedric Washington testified that the woman had been turned away.
“That is true according to the desk officer that I spoke to about it,” Washington said.
“OK. He apparently missed a briefing in the chief’s press conference that day, I guess,” Deputy District Attorney John McKinney said.
Josh Rubenstein, an LAPD spokesman, said Monday in an email that the internal investigation began a few days ago.
“While the initial indications pointed to a miscommunication, we have initiated an administrative investigation to ensure all policies and procedures were followed,” Rubenstein wrote. “We will review all statements that have already been given, interview all of the individuals involved, and look for any potential body cam video that may have captured the interchange.”
Rubenstein told the Los Angeles Times last week there didn’t appear to be any misconduct.
“She was not making herself clear of what she was doing,” Rubenstein said, noting that the officer believed the woman was reporting that someone was just recording video of her car on television.
A grand jury on May 9 returned an indictment charging Holder, 29, with murder, attempted murder and other felonies. He has pleaded not guilty.
The woman testified that Holder was a friend she had known for about a month and that she believed the two were just stopping at a shopping center for food.
She saw Hussle standing outside his South Los Angeles clothing store, The Marathon, expressed her excitement and took a picture with him after overhearing Holder and Hussle’s conversation about “snitching.”
The woman and Holder had pulled out of the shopping center and into a nearby gas station when Holder loaded a gun, told her he would be back and walked back to the shopping center, the woman testified.
She said she heard two gunshots, and Holder returned moments later telling her to drive. She said she didn’t learn Hussle had been shot until later that night.
Witnesses heard Holder and Hussle, both of whom have ties to the Rollin’ 60s street gang, discussing “snitching” minutes before Hussle was shot, according to the transcripts.
Holder was arrested two days later about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the crime scene.
Hussle, 33, whose real name is Ermias Ashgedom, was a long-respected rapper who had just broken through with a Grammy-nominated album before he was shot and killed.
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