Toni Morrison: First Lady of Letters

James McBride in The New York Times:

Toni Morrison, the author and Nobel Prize winner, turned 88 on Feb. 18. I have never met Morrison. And while you’ll likely see a donkey fly before you see her stand before a bunch of Harvard undergraduates and sing on demand, the fact is Toni Morrison is very much like Ella Fitzgerald. Like Fitzgerald, she rose from humble beginnings to world prominence. Like Fitzgerald, she is intensely private. And like Fitzgerald, she has given every iota of her extraordinary American-born talent and intellect to the great American dream. Not the one with the guns and bombs bursting in air. The other one, the one with world peace, justice, racial harmony, art, literature, music and language that shows us how to be free wrapped in it. Morrison has, as they say in church, lived a life of service. Whatever awards and acclaim she has won, she has earned. She has paid in full. She owes us nothing.

Yet even as she moves into the October of life, Morrison, quietly and without ceremony, lays another gem at our feet. “The Source of Self-Regard” is a book of essays, lectures and meditations, a reminder that the old music is still the best, that in this time of tumult and sadness and continuous war, where tawdry words are blasted about like junk food, and the nation staggers from one crisis to the next, led by a president with all the grace of a Cyclops and a brain the size of a full-grown pea, the mightiness, the stillness, the pure power and beauty of words delivered in thought, reason and discourse, still carry the unstoppable force of a thousand hammer blows, spreading the salve of righteousness that can heal our nation and restore the future our children deserve. This book demonstrates once again that Morrison is more than the standard-bearer of American literature.

She is our greatest singer. And this book is perhaps her most important song.

More here.