The best art is political and you ought to be able to make it unquestionably political and irrevocably beautiful at the same time.
The publication of Toni Morrison’s profound short story called Recitatif is out this month in time for what would have been her 91st birthday. This beautiful little edition is shared equally with an essay by Zadie Smith.
In the story, two young girls are thrown together in a children’s shelter and then meet again on occasion as they grow older. One is black and one is white, but Morrison doesn’t let the reader know which is which. I suggest reading the story first. Let it settle, ponder it. Then read Smith’s insightful explication that includes many of Morrison’s own observations of life and the “isms.”
Specifically I was impressed with an excerpt from Morrison’s piece called “Racism and Facism” that was published in her book The Source of Self-Regard. In an address given at Howard University in 1995 she provided an instructive “playbook” by which oppression operates and thrives. She demonstrates her power in naming things and in being able to analyze systems in greater detail.
Morrison’s insights are inseparable from her commitment to beautiful language, and she always appeals to our deepest humanity.
As I’ve written before, empathy is literature’s secret superpower and has the unique capacity to take us inside the experience of another person. Venomous “isms” and dogma have been and always will be with us, but there is an antidote to be found in art like this.
It was with tremendous delight that I read this gift of fiction from one of my favorite authors, and I highly recommend it to book groups.