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Nobel-winning Toni Morrison ponders the rise of evil in literature

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At 83, Toni Morrison has no plans to retire. At this point in her career, that kind of drive has little to do with unmet goals; the Nobel Prize winner has written 10 novels, a play, and many nonfiction pieces. Her body of work, including the novel “Beloved, “which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, is already part of the literary canon.

But Morrison, speaking by phone in her distinctive low, whispery voice from her home in New York’s Hudson Valley, said she just can’t be happy without a project. Her creative impulse and her desire for artistic freedom are as strong as ever.

“Writing novels is the world to me,” she said. “The outside world can be OK or not OK, beautiful or not beautiful, but I am in control here,” said Morrison, who still scratches out the first drafts of her novels with a pencil on yellow legal pads. “When I’m writing, nobody’s telling me what to do. The expectations are high because they are mine, and that is a kind of freedom I don’t have anywhere else. Nowhere.”

While Morrison was a well-known literary figure before “Beloved,” that book’s blockbuster success took her into the mainstream — a remarkable feat, considering the novel’s unflinching look at slavery. Its main character, Sethe, based on real-life escaped slave Margaret Garner, kills one of her children to spare her a life of enslavement.

The impact of “Beloved” — and Morrison’s writing output as a whole — cannot be overstated, said Angela Davis, the scholar, activist, and UC Santa Cruz professor emerita who will introduce Morrison at the Peggy Downes Baskin Ethics Lecture Oct. 25 at the Rio Theatre.

Morrison, through fiction, has made social change, a feat many others haven’t been able to accomplish through nonfiction writing and activism, Davis said.

“I don’t think that our notion of freedom would be what it is without the impact of Toni Morrison.”

“Beloved” “helped us think about U.S. history in an entirely different way,” Davis said, and Morrison’s specificity —i ncluding her elegantly crafted characters — helped change “the abstractness of the portrayal of slavery.… It became possible to humanize slavery, to remember that the system of slavery did not destroy the humanity of those whom it enslaved.”

The two have been friends since the early ’70s, when…

 

“LITERATURE AND THE SILENCE OF GOODNESS”

When: Saturday, Oct. 25
Where: The Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz
Tickets: Sold out
Details: specialevents.ucsc.edu/founders

If you weren’t able to get tickets to this sold out event, you can livestream in online at http://specialevents.ucsc.edu/founders or tune in and listen to the talk at KZSC 88.1 FM.

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