The author of Song of Solomon now sets her extraordinary novelistic powers on a striking new course. Tar Baby, audacious and hypnotic, is masterful in its mingling of tones—of longing and alarm, of urbanity and a primal, mythic force in which the landscape itself becomes animate, alive with a wild, dark complicity in the fates of the people whose drama unfolds. It is a novel suffused with a tense and passionate inquiry, revealing a whole spectrum of emotions underlying the relationships between black men and women, white men and women, and black and white people.
The place is a Caribbean island. In their mansion overlooking the sea, the cultivated millionaire Valerian Street, now retired, and his pretty, younger wife, Margaret, go through rituals of living, as if in a trance. It is the black servant couple, who have been with the Streets for years—the fastidious butler, Sydney, and his strong yet remote wife—who have arranged every detail of existence to create a surface calm broken only by sudden bursts of verbal sparring between Valerian and his wife. And there is a visitor among them—a beautiful young black woman, Jadine, who is not only the servant's dazzling niece, but the protegée and friend of the Streets themselves; Jadine, who has been educated at the Sorbonne at Valerian's expense and is home now for a respite from her Paris world of fashion, film and art.
Through a season of untroubled ease, the lives of these five move with a ritualized grace until, one night, a ragged, starving black American street man breaks into the house. And, in a single moment, with Valerian's perverse decision not to call for help but instead to invite the man to sit with them and eat, everything changes. Valerian moves toward a larger abdication. Margaret's delicate and enduring deception is shattered. The butler and his wife are forced into acknowledging their illusions. And Jadine, who at first is repelled by the intruder, finds herself moving inexorably toward him—he calls himself Son; he is a kind of black man she has dreaded since childhood; uneducated, violent, contemptuous of her privilege.
As Jadine and Son come together in the loving collision they have both welcomed and feared, the novel moves outward—to the Florida backwater town Son was raised in, fled from, yet cherishes; to her sleek New York; then back to the island people and their protective and entangling legends. As the lovers strive to hold and understand each other, as they experience the awful weight of the separate worlds that have formed them—she perceiving his vision of reality and of love as inimical to her freedom, he perceiving her as the classic lure, the tar baby set out to entrap him—all the mysterious elements, all the highly charged threads of the story converge. Everything that is at risk is made clear: how the conflicts and dramas wrought by social and cultural circumstances must ultimately be played out in the realm of the heart.
Once again, Toni Morrison has given us a novel of daring, fascination, and power.
WINNER 1993 - Nobel Prize
One of the most celebrated writers of our time, Toni Morrison has become a distinctive literary voice in the 20th Century, and her works have become essential reading in the body of contemporary American fiction.
Toni Morrison was appointed Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University in the Spring of 1989.
Ms. Morrison has degrees from Howard and Cornell Universities. Among the universities where she has held teaching posts are Yale, Bard College and Rutgers. The New York State Board of Regents appointed her to the Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities at the State University of New York at Albany in 1984, a post she held until 1989. In 1988 she was the Obert C. Tanner Lecturer at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the Jeannette K. Watson Distinguished Professor at Syracuse University. In 1990 she delivered the Clark lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Massey Lectures at Harvard University.
Her six major novels, The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, and Jazz, have received extensive critical acclaim. She received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977 for Song of Solomon and the 1988 Pulitzer prize for Beloved. Both novels were chosen as the main selections for the Book-of-the-Month Club, in 1977 and 1987 respectively. Her books of essays include Playing in the Dark, and her edited collection Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality.
Her first play, Dreaming Emmett, was commissioned by the New York State Writers Institute of the State University of New York (1985). Meeting with favorable reviews, it drew audiences throughout New York and the entire Tri-State area.
Honey and Rue, commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Kathleen Battle, with lyrics by Toni Morrison and music by Andre Previn, premiered in January 1992.
Ms. Morrison has received honorary degrees from Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Sarah Lawrence, Oberlin, Dartmouth, Yale, Georgetown, Columbia, Brown, the University of Michigan, and Universite Paris 7-Denis Diderot. She was also the first recipient of the Washington College Literary Award in 1987 and was New York State Governor's Arts Awardee in 1986.
Other prestigious awards include: the Modern Language Association of America Commonwealth Award in Literature, 1989; Sara Lee Corporation Front Runner Award in Arts, 1989; Anisfield Wolf Book Award in Race Relations, 1988; the Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature in 1978; and the Distinguished Writer Award of 1978 from the American Academy of Art and Letters.
She was a senior editor at Random House for twenty years.
Toni Morrison is a founding member of the Academie Universelle Des Cultures (at the Louvre, Paris), a Trustee of the New York Public Library, a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a member of the Author's Guild where she served on the Guild Council and as Foundation Treasurer. She served on the National Council of The Arts for six years and is a member of the Africa Watch and Helsinki Watch Committees on Human Rights.
In 1993 Ms. Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.