At 88 years of age, Toni Morrison is best known as the author of novels about America's harvest of shame, especially the slave trade and massive persecution of African Americans even after they were set free. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, she has charted the "persistent demonization of blacks" and its continuing impact:
"The reconfiguration of political and economic alliances and the almost instant reparsing of nation-states encourage and repel the relocation of large numbers of peoples. Excluding the height of the slave trade, this mass movement of peoples is greater now than it has ever been. It involves the distribution of workers, intellectuals, refugees, traders, immigrants, and armies all crossing oceans and continents, through custom offices and via hidden routes, with multiple narratives spoken in multiple languages of commerce, of military intervention, political persecution, exile, violence, poverty, death, and shame. There is little doubt that the voluntary or involuntary displacement of people all over the globe tops the agenda of the state, the boardrooms, the neighborhoods, the streets."
Morrison sadly states that walls and weapons are most defining characteristics of our times. Adding to the chaos and the fears of these times are the ever-present winds of war, the equation of justice with violence, and the power plays of global corporations. In a chapter on "Black Matter(s)" Morrison salutes "the rumination of Africanistic character as a laboratory experiment for confronting emotional, historical, and moral problems as well as intellectual entanglements with the serious questions of power, privilege, freedom, and equity."
Other standout essays in this ambitious and substantive collection of essays, speeches, and meditations are a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr, a eulogy for James Baldwin, and an address given to Amnesty International. In each one, Morrison demonstrates her ethical purview, her sweeping imagination, and her respect for all human beings.