What Moves at the Margin – Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is a writer I greatly admire but one who drives me mad because of the complex motifs and symbolism in her writing.I do find her writing, as elegant and beautiful as it is, challenging at times (Paradise is one of those Morrison books I struggled through).

I picked up this book of essays on a whim and I was glad that I did. I think my new thing will be reading author’s diaries, biographies or essays before I embark on their fiction, if at all possible. I feel that after reading these essays,several which have biographical elements), I am in a better position to understand what Ms. Morrison is trying to do as a writer and who her influences are,and so on.

This essay collection covered many topics, for example book reviews, her early life, black history, academia, language etc. My favourite essay by far was the profoundly-moving tribute to James Baldwin, “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life in His Language.”

“No one possessed or inhabited language for me the way you did. You made American English honest – genuinely international. You exposed its secrets and reshaped it until it was truly modern dialogic, representative, humane. You stripped it of ease and false comfort and fake innocence and evasion and hypocrisy. And in place of deviousness was clarity. In place of soft plump lies was a lean, targeted power. In place of intellectual disingenuousness and what you called ”exasperating egocentricity,” you gave us undecorated truth. You replaced lumbering platitudes with an upright elegance. You went into that forbidden territory and decolonized it, ”robbed it of the jewel of its naivete,” and un-gated it for black people so that in your wake we could enter it, occupy it, restructure it in order to accommodate our complicated passion – not our vanities but our intricate, difficult, demanding beauty, our tragic, insistent knowledge, our lived reality, our sleek classical imagination – all the while refusing ”to be defined by a language that has never been able to recognize [ us ] .” In your hands language was handsome again. In your hands we saw how it was meant to be: neither bloodless nor bloody, and yet alive.”
A beautiful collection of essays I would be happy to re-read.


6 thoughts on “What Moves at the Margin – Toni Morrison

  1. I’m never sure whether to read about the writer first or read their work first, but with Toni Morrison, given you have already read her work, sounds like good timing. I wasn’t aware of these essays, I shall watch out for them!

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