By Dr Meenakshi Malhotra

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Toni Morrison

What can you say about a writer who gave a voice and identity to a whole people — a group and a community whose silences are made to speak and sing in her books? A writer whose voice rang out with passion, courage and conviction  to detail the sub-human conditions in which her people had lived?  A trailblazer whose works depicted the toils and travails of a long suppressed people whose experiences were unrecorded in history books? A writer whose passionate courage helped her to articulate her convictions about the dehumanisation of a whole race?

Morrison was born in 1931 and grew up in a family atmosphere which provided a context for arousing a keen interest in the stories, narratives, folklore, myths and rituals of the African American community. This early interest is evident in the rich oral quality of her writings, its lyrical cadences and it’s measured and “layered polyphony’’. Later, she studied English and Classical Literature from Howard University in Washington D.C. where she acquired her BA degree. This was followed by a Masters from Cornell University in 1955.

Subsequently, she taught at Howard  University for two years. She also got married to a Jamaican architect named Harold Morrison in 1958 and they had two sons, before divorcing in 1964.The next few years Morrison wrote, juggled teaching assignments and also did a twenty year stint with Random House as an Editor. This platform enabled her to identify writing talent and she was able to help many aspiring young African American writers to get published.

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Literature perhaps does not seem profitable to most. But what recent findings have shown is that reading good literature helps build attitudes that can lead to a better chance at success. Would you or would you not want to take on the challenge of a good book?

Carl Sagan, a legend in our times with his Pulitzer Prize winning Cosmos ( book and TV series), an iconic, successful figure who demystified science for mankind, relived the wonder of books and reading: “What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you…Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” 

A large group of Penn students and teaching assistants — about 50 people in total — applauded when the author of their latest reading assignment, “The Sympathizer,” stepped to the front of the classroom.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, who just recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, spoke to students in Penn professor Amy Kaplan’s class “Vietnam War in Literature and Film” on April 18. Kaplan said she was “thrilled, of course” when she learned of his win.