Toni Morrison

Happy Birthday Toni Morrison

Humans of the world (and probably some cats) can be divided into two camps: those who think Toni Morrison wrote only one short story during her lifetime and those who think she wrote two.

Why so controversial? Well, her first (or only) story, “Recitatif,” was published in 1983 in Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women, edited by Amiri and Amina Baraka. Her second story, “Sweetness,” is actually (Gasp!) an excerpt from her novel God Help the Child. Those readers who think she wrote only one generally overlap with those who don’t believe chapters of novels can be excised as short stories.

And until I read “Sweetness,” I was in that camp. But this story isn’t just the first chapter of a long-form piece. It is the first, fifth, and last chapter of a novel written in four voices, Sweetness, Bride, Brooklyn, and Sofia, that alternate by chapter throughout the book. “Sweetness” is the sum of one character’s voice in the book, bringing together the entire character arc. And, since the chapters are taken from the book’s beginning, middle and end, they combine to create a natural story arc. But there are those who DO NOT agree.

(I recommend checking out Mookse and Gripes’ review and CodeX Cantina’s analysis for a balance of opinions.)

No matter how many stories she wrote, on this day of Toni Morrison’s birth (February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019), I am delighted to count her among those fascinated by the short story form (and not just because I can add her stamps to my collection). Her fiction has always walked the fine line between prose and poetry for me, so it is only natural that she would try her hand at the form that lies smack in between them! Oh, and here is my (brief) spreadsheet of Toni’s short stories.

Both stories are easy to find online. I’d love to hear which camp you fall into!

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