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Archive for the ‘Pulitzer Prize’ Category

Toni Morrison (born 1931) was the first African
American woman to win the Nobel Prize.
She won the Nobel Prize in 1993 and
the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988.
Her birth name is Chloe Wofford. 

Toni Morrison is best known for her novels The Bluest Eye, published in 1970; Song of Solomon, published in 1977; and Beloved published in 1987. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction of her novel Song of Solomon:

I have long despised artists’ chatter about muses — “voices” that speak to them and enable a vision, the source of which they could not otherwise name. I thought of muses as inventions to protect one’s insight, to avoid questions like “Where do your ideas come from?” Or to escape inquiry into the fuzzy area between autobiography and fiction. I regarded the “mystery” of creativity as a shield erected by artists to avoid articulating, analyzing, or even knowing the details of their creative process — for fear it would fade away.

Writing Song of Solomon destroyed all that. I had no access to what I planned to write about until my father died. In the unmanageable sadness that followed, there was none of the sibling wrangling, guilt or missed opportunities, or fights for this or that memento. Each of his four children was convinced that he loved her or him best. He had sacrificed greatly for one, risking his house and his job; he took another to baseball games over whole summers where they lay in the grass listening to a portable radio, talking, evaluating the players on the field. In the company of one, his firstborn, he always beamed and preferred her cooking over everyone else’s, including his wife’s. He carried a letter from me in his coat pocket for years and years, and drove through blinding snow-storms to help me. Most important, he talked to each of us in language cut to our different understandings. He had a flattering view of me as someone interesting, capable, witty, smart, high-spirited. I did not share that view of myself, and wondered why he held it. But it was the death of that girl — the one who lived in his head — that I mourned when he died. Even more than I mourned him, I suffered the loss of the person he thought I was. I think it was because I felt closer to him than to myself that, after his death, I deliberately sought his advice for writing the novel that continued to elude me. “What are the men you have known really like?”

He answered.

What it is called — muse, insight, inspiration, “the dark finger that guides,” “bright angel” — it exists and, in many forms, I have trusted it ever since.

The challenge of Song of Solomon was to manage what was for me a radical shift in imagination from a female locus to a male one. To get out of the house, to de-domesticate the landscape that had so far been the sit of my work. To travel. To fly. In such an overtly, stereotypically male narrative, I thought that straightforward chronology would be more suitable than the kind of play with sequence and time I had employed in my previous novels. A journey, then, with the accomplishment of flight, the triumphant end of a trip through earth, to its surface, on into water, and finally into air. All very saga-like. Old-school heroic, but with other meanings. Opening with the suicidal leap of the insurance agent, ending it with the protagonist’s confrontational soar into danger, was meant to enclose the mystical but problematic one taking by the Solomon of the title.

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Toni Morrison (born 1931) was the first African
American woman to win the Nobel Prize.
She won the Nobel Prize in 1993 and
the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988.
Her birth name is Chloe Wofford. 

In my English Comp class tonight, I will ask my students how many faces are in the classroom. The class size ranges from 15 to 20, but I am referring to the faces of the poet and fiction writers on the classroom posters. As the semester winds down, I will introduce my students to the faces on the wall.

Toni Morrison is best known for her novels The Bluest Eye, published in 1970; Song of Solomon, published in 1977; and Beloved published in 1987. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction of her novel Song of Solomon:

I have long despised artists’ chatter about muses — “voices” that speak to them and enable a vision, the source of which they could not otherwise name. I thought of muses as inventions to protect one’s insight, to avoid questions like “Where do your ideas come from?” Or to escape inquiry into the fuzzy area between autobiography and fiction. I regarded the “mystery” of creativity as a shield erected by artists to avoid articulating, analyzing, or even knowing the details of their creative process — for fear it would fade away.

Writing Song of Solomon destroyed all that. I had no access to what I planned to write about until my father died. In the unmanageable sadness that followed, there was none of the sibling wrangling, guilt or missed opportunities, or fights for this or that memento. Each of his four children was convinced that he loved her or him best. He had sacrificed greatly for one, risking his house and his job; he took another to baseball games over whole summers where they lay in the grass listening to a portable radio, talking, evaluating the players on the field. In the company of one, his firstborn, he always beamed and preferred her cooking over everyone else’s, including his wife’s. He carried a letter from me in his coat pocket for years and years, and drove through blinding snow-storms to help me. Most important, he talked to each of us in language cut to our different understandings. He had a flattering view of me as someone interesting, capable, witty, smart, high-spirited. I did not share that view of myself, and wondered why he held it. But it was the death of that girl — the one who lived in his head — that I mourned when he died. Even more than I mourned him, I suffered the loss of the person he thought I was. I think it was because I felt closer to him than to myself that, after his death, I deliberately sought his advice for writing the novel that continued to elude me. “What are the men you have known really like?”

He answered.

What it is called — muse, insight, inspiration, “the dark finger that guides,” “bright angel” — it exists and, in many forms, I have trusted it ever since.

The challenge of Song of Solomon was to manage what was for me a radical shift in imagination from a female locus to a male one. To get out of the house, to de-domesticate the landscape that had so far been the sit of my work. To travel. To fly. In such an overtly, stereotypically male narrative, I thought that straightforward chronology would be more suitable than the kind of play with sequence and time I had employed in my previous novels. A journey, then, with the accomplishment of flight, the triumphant end of a trip through earth, to its surface, on into water, and finally into air. All very saga-like. Old-school heroic, but with other meanings. Opening with the suicidal leap of the insurance agent, ending it with the protagonist’s confrontational soar into danger, was meant to enclose the mystical but problematic one taking by the Solomon of the title.

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Essays of E.B. White

The following excerpt is from E.B. White’s Essays, published in 1977:

Good-bye to Forty-eighth Street

Turtle Bay, November 12, 1957  For some weeks now I have been engaged in dispersing the contents of this apartment, trying to persuade hundreds of inanimate objects to scatter and leave me alone. It is not a simple matter. I am impressed by the reluctance of one’s worldly goods to go out again into the world. During September I kept hoping that some morning, as by magic, all books, pictures, records, chair, beds, curtains, lamps, china, glass, utensils, keepsakes would drain away from around my feet, like the outgoing tide, leaving me standing silence on a bare beach. But this did not happen. My wife and I diligently sorted and discarded things from day to day, and packed other objects for movers, but a six-room apartment holds as much paraphernalia as an aircraft carrier. You can whittle away at it, but to empty the place completely takes real ingenuity and great staying power. On one of the mornings of disposal, a man from a second-hand bookstore visited us, bought several hundred books, and told us of the death of his brother, the word cancer exploding in the living room like a time bomb detonated by his grief. Even after he had departed with his heavy load, there seemed to be almost as many books as before, and twice as much sorrow.

Elwyn Brooks White (1899-1985) is best known
for his book Charlotte’s Web.
He received an honorary Pulitzer
in 1978 for his work as a whole.

Every morning, when I left for work, I would take something in my hand and walk off with it, deposit in the big municipal wire trash basket at the corner of Third, on the theory that the physical act of disposal was the real key to the problem. My wife, a strategist, knew better and began quietly mobilizing the forces that would eventually put our goods to rout. A man could walk away for a thousand mornings carrying something with him to the corner and there would still be a home full of stuff. It is not possible to keep abreast of the normal tides of acquisition. A home is like a reservoir equipped with a check valve: the valve permits influx but prevents outflow. Acquisition goes on night and day — smoothly, subtly, imperceptibly. I have no sharp taste for acquiring things, but it is not necessary to desire things in order to acquire them. Goods and chattels seek a man out; they find him even though his guard is up. Books and oddities arrive in the mail. Gifts arrive on anniversaries and fete days. Veterans send ballpoint pens. Banks send memo books. If you happen to be a writer, readers send whatever may be cluttering up their own lives; I had a man once send me a chip of wood that showed the marks of a beaver’s teeth. Someone dies, and a little trickle of indestructible keepsakes appears, to swell the floor. This steady influx is not counterbalanced by any comparable outgo. Under ordinary circumstances, the only stuff that leaves a home is paper trash and garbage; everything else stays on and digs in.

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The following excerpt is from E.B. White’s Essays, published in 1977:

Good-bye to Forty-eighth Street

Turtle Bay, November 12, 1957  For some weeks now I have been engaged in dispersing the contents of this apartment, trying to persuade hundreds of inanimate objects to scatter and leave me alone. It is not a simple matter. I am impressed by the reluctance of one’s worldly goods to go out again into the world. During September I kept hoping that some morning, as by magic, all books, pictures, records, chair, beds, curtains, lamps, china, glass, utensils, keepsakes would drain away from around my feet, like the outgoing tide, leaving me standing silence on a bare beach. But this did not happen. My wife and I diligently sorted and discarded things from day to day, and packed other objects for movers, but a six-room apartment holds as much paraphernalia as an aircraft carrier. You can whittle away at it, but to empty the place completely takes real ingenuity and great staying power. On one of the mornings of disposal, a man from a second-hand bookstore visited us, bought several hundred books, and told us of the death of his brother, the word cancer exploding in the living room like a time bomb detonated by his grief. Even after he had departed with his heavy load, there seemed to be almost as many books as before, and twice as much sorrow.

Elwyn Brooks White (1899-1985) is best known
for his book Charlotte’s Web.
He received an honorary Pulitzer
in 1978 for his work as a whole.

Every morning, when I left for work, I would take something in my hand and walk off with it, deposit in the big municipal wire trash basket at the corner of Third, on the theory that the physical act of disposal was the real key to the problem. My wife, a strategist, knew better and began quietly mobilizing the forces that would eventually put our goods to rout. A man could walk away for a thousand mornings carrying something with him to the corner and there would still be a home full of stuff. It is not possible to keep abreast of the normal tides of acquisition. A home is like a reservoir equipped with a check valve: the valve permits influx but prevents outflow. Acquisition goes on night and day — smoothly, subtly, imperceptibly. I have no sharp taste for acquiring things, but it is not necessary to desire things in order to acquire them. Goods and chattels seek a man out; they find him even though his guard is up. books and oddities arrive in the mail. Gifts arrive on anniversaries and fete days. Veterans send ballpoint pens. Banks send memo books. If you happen to be a writer, readers send whatever may be cluttering up their own lives; I had a man once send me a chip of wood that showed the marks of a beaver’s teeth. Someone dies, and a little trickle of indestructible keepsakes appears, to swell the floor. This steady influx is not counterbalanced by any comparable outgo. Under ordinary circumstances, the only stuff that leaves a home is paper trash and garbage; everything else stays on and digs in.

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Fact

Operation Phantom Fury.
*       *       *
The full force   
of the will to live   
is fixed   
on the next   
occasion:
someone   
coming with a tray,
someone   
calling a number.
*       *       *
Each material   
fact   
is a pose,
an answer   
waiting to be chosen.
“Just so,” it says.
“Ask again!”
……………………………………….
Rae Armantrout (born 1947) won the Pultizer for her book Versed. Other Pulitzer finalists in 2010 were Angie Estes for her book Tryst and Lucia Perillo for her book Inseminating the Elephant.

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In the classroom was a poster of Willa Cather (1873-1947) with this quote beneath it, There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before. 

Above the poster was a clock with the hour hand moving ahead quickly so that each hour passed in a matter of seconds. I’d look from my class to the clock, watching the hands spin around, feeling like I was in a movie where time moves forward rapidly to show how much the characters have changed. This is the clock that turned above Cather’s poster. Time marches on, but the stories never change.

Other Cather quotes:

It does not matter much whom we live with in this world, but it matters a great deal whom we dream of.

Of all the bewildering things about a new country, the absence of human landmarks is one of the most depressing and disheartening.

Sometimes a neighbor whom we have disliked a lifetime for his arrogance and conceit lets fall a single commonplace remark that shows us another side, another man, really; a man uncertain, and puzzled, and in the dark like ourselves.

The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own. 

The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.

The thing that teases the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper whether little or great, it belongs to literature.

There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.

To note an artist’s limitations is but to define his talent. A reporter can write equally well about everything that is presented to his view, but a creative writer can do his best only with what lies within the range and character of his deepest sympathies.

When kindness has left people, even for a few moments, we become afraid of them as if their reason had left them. When it has left a place where we have always found it, it is like shipwreck; we drop from security into something malevolent and bottomless.

When we look back, the only things we cherish are those which in some way met our original want; the desire which formed in us in early youth, undirected, and of its own accord.

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I have taken a position teaching English at a local college and taught my first class last night. In the classroom was a poster of Willa Cather (1873-1947) with this quote beneath it, There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.

Above the poster was a clock with the hour hand moving ahead quickly so that each hour passed in a matter of seconds. I’d look from my class to the clock, watching the hands spin around, feeling like I was in a movie where time moves forward rapidly to show how much the characters have changed. This is the clock that turned above Cather’s poster. Time marches on, but the stories never change.

Other Cather quotes:

It does not matter much whom we live with in this world, but it matters a great deal whom we dream of.

Of all the bewildering things about a new country, the absence of human landmarks is one of the most depressing and disheartening.

Sometimes a neighbor whom we have disliked a lifetime for his arrogance and conceit lets fall a single commonplace remark that shows us another side, another man, really; a man uncertain, and puzzled, and in the dark like ourselves.

The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own.

The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.

The thing that teases the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper whether little or great, it belongs to literature.

There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.

To note an artist’s limitations is but to define his talent. A reporter can write equally well about everything that is presented to his view, but a creative writer can do his best only with what lies within the range and character of his deepest sympathies.

When kindness has left people, even for a few moments, we become afraid of them as if their reason had left them. When it has left a place where we have always found it, it is like shipwreck; we drop from security into something malevolent and bottomless.

When we look back, the only things we cherish are those which in some way met our original want; the desire which formed in us in early youth, undirected, and of its own accord.

Read Full Post »

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