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Time is no match for Toni Morrison. In her writing, she sometimes toyed with it, warping and creasing it, bending it to her masterful will. In her life’s story, too, she treated time nontraditionally. A child of the Great Migration who’d lifted up new, more diverse voices in American literature as an editor, Toni didn’t publish her first novel until she was 39 years old. From there followed an ascendant career—a Pulitzer, a Nobel, and so much more—and with it, a fusion of the African American story within the American story. Toni Morrison was a national treasure. Her writing was not just beautiful but meaningful—a challenge to our conscience and a call to greater empathy. She was as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page. And so even as Michelle and I mourn her loss and send our warmest sympathies to her family and friends, we know that her stories—that our stories—will always be with us, and with those who come after, and on and on, for all time.

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Now that she’s in her mid-80s, celebrated author Toni Morrison feels aches, pains and regret.

She tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, “When I’m not creating or focusing on something I can imagine or invent, I think I go back over my life — I don’t recommend this, by the way — and you pick up, ‘Oh, what did you do that for? Why didn’t you understand this?’ Not just with children, as a parent, but with other people, with friends. … It’s not profound regret; it’s just a wiping up of tiny little messes that you didn’t recognize as mess when they were going on.”

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Morrison, the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature, says writing provides a “big protection” from her thoughts. Her latest novel, God Help the Child, follows an African-American woman who has no idea why she has given birth to such a dark-skinned baby. The mother, named Sweetness, is embarrassed by her daughter’s darkness and wants to distance herself. The daughter, meanwhile, is scarred by not having her mother’s love.

Morrison says she wanted to separate color from race in her latest creation. “Distinguishing color — light, Black, in between — as the marker for race is really an error: It’s socially constructed, it’s culturally enforced and it has some advantages for certain people,” she says. “But this is really skin privilege — the ranking of color in terms of its closeness to White people or white-skinned people and its devaluation according to how dark one is and the impact that has on people who are dedicated to the privileges of certain levels of skin color.”





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