The source of self-regard is brimming with all the elegance of mind and style, the literary prowess and moral compass that are Toni Morrison's inimitable hallmark. It is divided into three parts: the first is introduced by a powerful prayer for the dead of 9/11; the second by a searching meditation on Martin Luther King Jr., and the last by a heart-wrenching eulogy for James Baldwin. In the writings and speeches included here, Morrison takes on contested social issues: the foreigner, female empowerment, the press, money, "black matter(s)," and human rights. She looks at enduring matters of culture: the role of the artist in society, the literary imagination, the Afro-American presence in American literature, and in her Nobel lecture, the power of language itself. And here too is piercing commentary on her own work (including The Bluest Eye, Sula, Tar Baby, Jazz, Beloved, and Paradise) and that of others, among them, painter and collagist Romare Bearden, author Toni Cade Bambara, and theater director Peter Sellars. In all, The source of self-regard is a luminous and essential addition to Toni Morrison's oeuvre.
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I didn't really expect to like this book quite as much as I did. This is a collection of Toni Morrison's essays and speeches collected over the last 40-ish years.
I expected to see the role of race in literature - and she didn't disappoint!
But the subject matter also ranged through art,
Three of the pieces really jumped out for me:
- Her full-hearted support for the National Endowment for the Arts.
- A review of Moby Dick through the lens of black slavery. Seriously, this was the first critique of that God Awful classic American novel I've ever seen. Almost made the high school death march assignment of this book worthwhile - just to have the context for Toni Morrison's review.
- The combined impact of her commencement speeches. The older I get, the more I appreciate good commencement speeches.
The selections are taken over time and (I assume) unedited. So there is a bit of repetition of themes and sometimes word for word text. But the overall effect was amazing.