Image source: Time Magazine (time.com)
This year’s Brooklyn Book Festival hosted a panel to honor Toni Morrison’s work and legacy, moderated by Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, and featured authors Saidiya Hartman and Nafissa Thompson-Spires, alongside Morrison’s long-time editor at Knopf, Robert Gottlieb.
Morrison is known for her discussions of race, through essays and novels that highlight the voices and experiences of black people in America. Some of her works include Beloved, The Bluest Eye, and Song of Solomon. Morrison was the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize.
Nearly two months after her death, Gottlieb shared stories about working with Morrison, as an editor and a friend. He talked of their editing experiences and how easily they agreed on aspects of the manuscript, or changes to it. He gave one of his well-known anecdotes regarding his and Morrison’s arguments about commas; he would fight to add the commas he couldn’t hear when reading her manuscripts, but these were made clear to him when listening to Morrison read her own work aloud.
To Gottlieb, Morrison was simply a great author. She did become noteworthy because of her talent as a storyteller, but it was a notoriety intertwined with her identity as a black woman — as a pioneer in the world of publishing.
Hartman reflected on her time as an author being influenced by Morrison’s work, and how Morrison gave readers a glimpse into a culture they may not know. In discussing Morrison’s work, Hartman observed how Morrison didn’t treat slavery as a thing of the past, and how she delved deep into the psyche of that time of history and life, or the psyche of the black experience in all of her works.
Morrison’s career, as one of the first black female novelists to become renowned in the literary world, was groundbreaking for others with a similar voice. Thompson-Spires said of Morrison’s success, “it meant there is a space for me.”
Read more on the panelists and their work in the literary world here.