Happy Birthday, Toni Morrison

toni_morrison

Today, February 18, marks the 82nd birthday of Toni Morrison. Morrison was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for her novel Beloved.  She is the United States’ only living literary Nobel Prize winner (awarded to her in 1993).

Morrison was born  ‘Chloe Wofford’ to working class parents in 1931. She grew up in Lorain, Ohio and converted to Catholicism at age twelve.  Her baptismal name was “Anthony,” which is where “Toni” comes from; Morrison is her married name. In 1958, she married fellow Howard University professor Harold Morrison. The couple had two children but divorced in 1964.

In the late 1960s while a professor at Howard, Morrison began writing with an informal group of friends. She developed her first story there about a black girl who longed to have blue eyes. This story was the basis for her novel The Bluest Eye (1970).  Other novels have enjoyed both critical and popular success, including  Sula (nominated for a National Book Award in 1975), Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987) and Jazz (1992).

Morrison has been called a writer “who has enriched our literary heritage over a life of service, or a corpus of work”  and one whose  “novels [are] characterized  by visionary force and poetic import [and] give life to an essential aspect of American reality.”

Here are ten of the most memorable lines from Morrison’s works and lectures:

1.  “Make up a story… For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.” ―  The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993

2.  “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.”  – Beloved

3.  “Don’t ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.” – Jazz

4.  “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”

5.  “What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?” – Song of Solomon 

6.  “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”

7.  “Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another–physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.” –  The Bluest Eye

8.  “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.” – Beloved

9.  “Gimme hate, Lord,” he whimpered. “I’ll take hate any day. But don’t give me love. I can’t take no more love, Lord. I can’t carry it…It’s too heavy. Jesus, you know, You know all about it. Ain’t it heavy? Jesus? Ain’t love heavy?” – Song of Solomon 

10.  “All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.”


Mo Yan Wins the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature

This morning, the Nobel Prize for Literature was announced.  The committee has granted the prestigious award to 57-year Chinese  author Mo Yan. In its press release, the Nobel Committee says that Mo Yan was selected for his writing that merges “hallucinatory realism (with) folk tales, history and the contemporary.

The choice, though widely lauded, has its critics as well. Although the subjects Yan typically writes about are “non-political,” the writer has been embraced by the Communist Party, something that gives dissident writers and others pause.

Despite political concerns, few would argue that Mo’s work is not brilliant. His subject matter typically examines rural Chinese life through magical realism. Mo’s penchant for narrators like talking animals and his inclusion of elements from Chinese fairy tales has drawn comparisons of his work to that of Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Perhaps Mr. Mo’s best-known work in the Western world is his novel Red SorghumPublished in 1986 and translated into English in 1992, Red Sorghum is a bandit-laced tale about the trials of life for rural Chinese. The novel was made into a movie in 1987.

Born in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong in 1955 to farming parents, Mo Yan is the pen name of Guan Moye.  Mo was a teenager during the Cultural Revolution. For several years, he took various agricultural jobs and then joined the People’s Liberation Army. His first short story, “Falling Rain on a Spring Night,” was published in 1981.  Many more short stories and novels have since been published. His latest, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Outwas written in 2006 and translated into English in 2008.


A Nobel Gamble

Place your bets!

Deliberations for who will win the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature will shortly be under way. With an impressive lineup of entries to choose from, there can be no surefire bet for who will take this coveted award. That’s because currently the odds are only at 5/1 for the win.

Yes, not satisfied with the profits from gambling on sports, bookies have found a way to hedge bets on prestigious literary awards. Ladbrokes, a British betting enterprise dating back to 1886, offers odds for the 2012 Man Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature, among others.

Fancy a gamble? Here are the frontrunners as they stand now:

Haruki Murakami 5/1

Bob Dylan 10/1

Mo Yan 12/1

Cees Nooteboom 12/1

Ismail Kadare 14/1

Adonis 14/1

Ko Un 14/1

Murakami has a clear lead with far safer odds than his fellow nominees. His most recent work, IQ84, was translated from Japanese in 2011, and has received high acclaim from both critics and readers.

Bob Dylan is slightly more out of place this high in the list. Though his chances may appear strong, they’re deceived by his popularity. Those placing bets are more likely to choose a name that’s familiar to them. Gamblers loyal to him placed £100-plus bets that shot him up the list, from 100/1 to 10/1, bounding past far better respected writers Tom Stoppard and Cormac McCarthy (both 16/1). Ladbrokes’ spokesman Alex Donohue puts Dylan’s chances rather bluntly,

We’re happy to ‘fill the satchel’ in bookmaking terms as we expect the Dylan backers to part with their cash again this year.

And if that doesn’t seal his fate for you, perhaps Swedish nobel panel member Horace Engdahl’s “professed hostility for ‘parochial’ American writing” will–alongside MA Orthofer‘s sound advice:

If you know anyone who has actually generously donated money to Ladbrokes by ‘betting’ on him please try to get them professional help, either from a psychiatrist or an accountant.

Yes, I think that says it all; no Nobel for Dylan this year folks.

If you can’t put a face to the names in the 3rd and 4th spots, it might be because they’re newcomers to the Nobel scene. Mo Yan is a subversive author, once described by a TIME article as “one of the most famous, oft-banned and widely pirated of all Chinese writers.” Nooteboom, a Dutch writer, enters the longlist for the first time in his extensive career, having published his first novel in 1955 at the age of 22. 46 of this year’s 210 nominees are first-time candidates for the prize.

Notable writers from further down the list include Philip Roth (16/1), Joyce Carol Oates (33/1), Ian McEwan (50/1), Margaret Atwood (50/1), Salman Rushdie (66/1), Ursula LeGuin (66/1), and–winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize for The Sense of an EndingJulian Barnes (66/1).

So how accurate are the odds? Last year the winner of the prize, Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, was given 9/2 odds, behind the favorite to win, Adonis, a Syrian poet who still ranks high on the list this year at 14/1. Therefore, Murakami isn’t a completely safe bet, but his chances are looking rather strong.

Deliberations will begin in about a week’s time. The announcement date for the winner has not yet been released.


2010 Nobel Prize in Literature

Congrats to Mario Vargas Llosa, who was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. It was announced this morning at a ceremony in Sweden.

Considered one of Latin America’s greatest authors, the 74-year-old Llosa has penned numerous novels, plays, and essays. His most famous works are Conversation in the Cathedral and The Green House, both of which explore the devastating effect of corrupt regimes. Not surprisingly, the Nobel Committee said that Llosa won the award “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.”


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