American novelist, editor and Pulitzer Prize winner TONI MORRISON has garnered worldwide acclaim for her thought-provoking prose. Now it’s her turn to be the compelling character.


Inside of Toni Morrison — she of the scorched earth and ­epiphany, caked blood and redemption, apocalypse and reconciliation, cacophony and harmony of such landmark novels as Song of Solomon,
GUEST OF HONOR: President Obama bestows the Presidential Medal of Freedom - the United States' highest civilian honor - on Morrison during a ceremony in 2012.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
 Beloved and Jazz, and recipient of the ­Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom — there exists a belly laugh, warm and volcanic, flowing like honeyed lava from her very core.

It is a thing of beauty, this laugh — a touch balmy, a pinch raucous and utterly alluring — suggesting that despite the often grave darkness that permeates her greatest books, which indeed rank among the greatest American novels ever composed, Morrison is, at 83, still a child of wonder.

It is a laugh Morrison liberates often during our afternoon together in the library of her apartment complex in New York City, rolling forth as she shares a tale of a particularly bawdy late-night phone call from actor Marlon Brando; the pleasures of afternoon talks with her older sister in which they do nothing but compare whose body hurts worse; her years-ago binge viewing of the A&E reality series Hoarders; and her adoration of British detective shows, about which she jokes, “Everyone is brilliant but seems to hate the idea of beauty.”

The laugh may surprise those who know Morrison only as literary lioness, progressive, sage and national icon. More than four decades ago, she ­ushered to bookstore shelves a new wave of African-American literature as an editor at Random House, while setting pen to paper to craft her own sequence of indelible novels, beginning with 1970’s The Bluest Eye, and becoming one of the nation’s most esteemed college professors, with stints at Howard University, Yale University, Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey, University at Albany and Princeton University, from which she retired in 2006.

“Toni Morrison’s novels are not particularly funny,” says longtime friend and colleague Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, “but she is. There is simultaneously this oracular quality to Toni, this hefty gravitas and formidability, but there is also a tremendous sense of wonder and play in the human being. I don’t think it’s wrong to say that there are many sides to Toni Morrison.”