You know the term “living legend”? And you know how you totally do a mental eye roll whenever someone uses it because it’s been fully bro-culture adopted and sounds totally hyperbolic? Well, I’m here to say with total seriousness and absolutely zero exaggeration: Toni Morrison is a living legend. She is wisdom personified and has written about the African-American experience and American life in a way that President Obama claims taught him “how to be.” That’s high prize. She’s also winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, and her Earth-stoppingly painful and beautiful novel Beloved won both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award back in the ’80s. The book takes place in the years after the Civil War and is about a woman who escaped slavery with her children, and ends up killing her baby girl rather than having her be recaptured. Years later, a ghost grown up — who many believe to be that little baby — comes to call. It is haunting. It is beautiful. It has been called the best work of fiction of the 20th century.
PSA: If you haven’t read Beloved get reading. Like, right now. Morrison was on the Colbert Report earlier this week and the two talked about the book (even Colbert himself having a hard time keeping character in the presence of her greatness). Colbert asked about the prize-winning novel and Morrison confessed she’d just recently read it for the first time since it was published. “It’s really good!” she said. Understatement of the year. They also talked about race (“there is no such thing as race,” Morrison says.) and racism (a social construct, she says), and how worthy she is of the accolades she’s received (“I know that my books are worthy.”) When Colbert asked her why she started writing (she didn’t pen her first novel until she was 39) Morrison gave a fully beautiful answer. “I wanted to show how painful this constructed, horrible racism was on the most vulnerable in the society: girls, black girls, poor girls. And that it really and truly could hurt you. So that’s what I was looking for and I thought no one had written that book. And since I really wanted to read it, I thought I should write it.” Amen.