CHILD'S PLAY: A few of Toni Morrison's children's books written with her late son, Slade.


Simon & Schuster’s Reidy agrees: “Toni writes like a train, and she’s given to the world a voice for a whole community that no one else has done and no one else has even come close to, and therefore given us a real understanding and wisdom and compassion that is unique.”

In the late 1970s, Morrison gained some commercial footing when The Bluest Eye was placed on the mandatory reading list at the City University of New York (CUNY), while Oprah Winfrey gave the Morrison catalog a career-defining boost in the late ’90s and early aughts by including several of the ­author’s titles in her powerhouse book club. Critical acclaim has been virtually consistent and unanimous, while recognition on the global stage is, she admits, sometimes a little overwhelming.


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Today, Morrison is at work on a novel for adults, her first one set in modern times. “It’s coming, but it’s kind of hard because it’s about now and I don’t understand now,” she says. “Now is too fluid, too this, too that. But I’m doing it anyway.”

One of the questions Morrison is most commonly asked in public by longtime readers is why she so steadfastly resists happy endings in her books. Morrison laughs again, a shuffling purr, insisting that these readers are getting it all wrong. She turns simulta­neously serious and exhilarated, leaning forward ever so slightly in her chair to speak in that miraculous voice.

“The consequences of trauma and pain and love, all of it is about the search for self-knowledge. Every one of my books is about that,” Morrison says, her eyes suddenly full of wonder. “At the end of these books, these people know certain things that they did not know before, and that, to me, is a happy ending. I can’t guarantee anything else. But if you can learn anything in this life, that’s beautiful and bedazzling to me.”



J. RENTILLY is an award-winning journalist who has interviewed some of America’s greatest writers, including Hunter S. Thompson, Elmore Leonard, Kurt Vonnegut and, now, Toni Morrison.