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Its Own Dark Styx

Marina Warner, 20 March 1997

The Nature of Blood 
by Caryl Phillips.
Faber, 224 pp., £15.99, February 1997, 0 571 19073 1
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... of the most powerful recent or contemporary novelists. In its shadowed and unreliable depths Toni Morrison, Kazuo Ishiguro, Leonardo Sciascia, Alejo Carpentier have searched out their material, reflections of ourselves; and from A State of Independence his second novel (1986), to The Nature of Blood, Caryl Phillips, too, has been scrying for ...

Plummeting Deep into Cold Pop

Zachary Leader: Colson Whitehead, 13 December 2001

John Henry Days 
by Colson Whitehead.
Fourth Estate, 389 pp., £12, June 2001, 1 84115 569 1
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... praise from American critics. Whitehead is black and comparisons were made to Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison and Ishmael Reed. John Updike has called him ‘blithely gifted’, ‘the young African-American writer to watch’. Whitehead’s new novel, John Henry Days, is longer and more ambitious than The Intuitionist, and the suggestion in its title ...

A Predilection for the Zinger

Rebecca Mead: Lorrie Moore, 10 December 1998

Birds of America 
by Lorrie Moore.
Faber, 291 pp., £9.99, November 1998, 0 571 19529 6
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... to occupy a smaller and smaller cultural space. Apart from the superstars like Philip Roth or Toni Morrison, literary writers in America are accorded a social status roughly equivalent to that of artisanal potters producing, like them, lovely, unnecessary work that hardly anyone cares enough about to want. (That’s the kind of writer Kathryn ...

Then You Are Them

Fredric Jameson: Atwood, 10 September 2009

The Year of the Flood 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 434 pp., £18.99, September 2009, 978 0 7475 8516 9
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... of an ideological doctrine? In a post-feminist age, whose great writers (Ursula Le Guin, Toni Morrison, Christa Wolf) are not women writers but just writers, Atwood does not easily fit some category labelled feminist: The Robber Bride, whose male figures are mostly not even violent but simply inept (the masculine ‘masquerade’, said ...

I love her to bits

Deborah Friedell: ‘The Testaments’, 7 November 2019

The Testaments 
by Margaret Atwood.
Chatto, 419 pp., £20, September 2019, 978 1 78474 232 4
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... being told to ‘check your privilege’, and it’s titillating. In an introduction to Beloved, Toni Morrison wrote about her attempt to write about the ‘different history of black women’ in America: ‘a history in which marriage was discouraged, impossible or illegal; in which birthing children was required, but “having” them, being ...

Why do white people like what I write?

Pankaj Mishra: Ta-Nehisi Coates, 22 February 2018

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy 
by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Hamish Hamilton, 367 pp., £16.99, October 2017, 978 0 241 32523 0
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... punishment. They took the initiative. Clinton, hailed as the ‘first black president’ by Toni Morrison, ended what he called ‘welfare as we know it’ and deregulated financial markets. Amid a national panic about ‘street terrorists’, he signed the most draconian crime bill in US history in 1994, following it up two years later with an ...

The Magic Bloomschtick

Colin Burrow: Harold Bloom, 21 November 2019

The American Canon: Literary Genius from Emerson to Pynchon 
by Harold Bloom, edited by David Mikics.
Library of America, 426 pp., £25, October 2019, 978 1 59853 640 9
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... a wider world of writing. There are chapters on black authors (Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Robert Hayden, Jay Wright) as well as on 12 women writers. Toni Morrison (‘a child of Faulkner’) is given shorter shrift than she deserves and told off for being ideological, but some ...

As Many Pairs of Shoes as She Likes

Jenny Turner: On Feminism, 15 December 2011

... Nina Power writes towards the end of her chapbook, One Dimensional Woman. She then hands over to Toni Morrison speaking to Time magazine in 1989. On single-parent households: ‘Two parents can’t raise a child any more than one. You need a whole community … The little nuclear family is a paradigm that just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for white ...

Silence

Wendy Steiner, 1 June 1989

Real Presences 
by George Steiner.
Faber, 236 pp., £12.99, May 1989, 0 571 14071 8
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... of understanding and of judgment ... are invested in the overnight.’ After all, who would set Toni Morrison next to Paul Celan? And lest this reference to black women writers of the Eighties appear a random example, we might look at Steiner’s musings on the relation between gender and art. He considers the act of aesthetic creativity an imitation ...

White Man’s Heaven

Michael Wood, 7 February 1991

Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin 
by James Campbell.
Faber, 306 pp., £14.99, January 1991, 0 571 15391 7
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James Baldwin: Artist on Fire 
by W.J. Weatherby.
Joseph, 412 pp., £17.99, June 1990, 0 7181 3403 6
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... ground or a place of poise: it is no man’s land, and it is a place that black women writers like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou seem to have understood better than anyone. They were at Baldwin’s funeral in New York when the white world had forgotten him and black militants were only just beginning to remember who he was. ‘Perhaps ...

Tricky Business

Megan Vaughan: The Middle Passage, 12 December 2002

The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade 
by Robert Harms.
Perseus, 466 pp., £17.99, February 2002, 1 903985 18 8
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... were lost. But another of the historian’s responsibilities is to confront us with the absences. Toni Morrison has described her reluctance to represent the abjection of the middle passage: Beloved, she says, stands in for ‘those black slaves whom we don’t know . . . I had to be dragged, I suppose by them, kicking and screaming into this ...

Mendacious Flowers

Martin Jay: Clinton Baiting, 29 July 1999

All too Human: A Political Education 
by George Stephanopoulos.
Hutchinson, 456 pp., £17.99, March 1999, 0 09 180063 3
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No One Left to Lie to: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Verso, 122 pp., £12, May 1999, 1 85984 736 6
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... which was most clearly manifested during Monicagate. Hitchens ridicules the claim made by Toni Morrison and endorsed by Arthur Miller that because Clinton came from a broken home and had an alcoholic mother, he suffered from the same prejudices as those directed at blacks, and thus in some sense is ‘our first black President’. He knows that ...

The Great NBA Disaster

John Sutherland, 19 October 1995

... decorated with (trademarked) Levine cartoons of Stephen King, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison or John Updike (gender and ethnic propriety are carefully observed). What is most dispiriting about these Barnes and Noble stores is the expansive blandness of their produce, and the prominence given bestsellers and non-books ...

Spells of Levitation

Lorna Sage: Deborah Eisenberg, 3 September 1998

All around Atlantis 
by Deborah Eisenberg.
Granta, 232 pp., £8.99, March 1998, 1 86207 161 6
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... and now with Asian Americans. In the marvellous lectures collected in Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison talks about the way in which black characters in classic American writing have had to carry the burden of the author’s symbolism. How much more galling, when you are a writer yourself, being made to tote that bale in some cultural-historical ...

How good is it?

Diarmaid MacCulloch: Inside the KJB, 3 February 2011

The Holy Bible: King James Version, 1611 Text 
edited by Gordon Campbell.
Oxford, 1552 pp., £50, October 2010, 978 0 19 955760 8
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Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011 
by Gordon Campbell.
Oxford, 354 pp., £16.99, October 2010, 978 0 19 955759 2
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The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today 
by David Norton.
Cambridge, 218 pp., £14.99, January 2011, 978 0 521 61688 1
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The King James Bible after 400 Years: Literary, Linguistic and Cultural Influences 
edited by Hannibal Hamlin and Norman Jones.
Cambridge, 364 pp., £25, December 2010, 978 0 521 76827 6
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Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language 
by David Crystal.
Oxford, 327 pp., £14.99, September 2010, 978 0 19 958585 4
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... guises and moods, one can hear the KJB resonating in the work of Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison. One of the most interesting and perceptive essayists is R.S. Sugirtharajah, even though his postcolonial scrutiny of the KJB takes surprisingly bitter sideswipes at a rather good recent history of 1611 by Adam Nicolson. Sugirtharajah ...

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