This volume collects the great novelist’s Norton lectures at Harvard University, giving those of us who didn’t get to attend a glimpse at Morrison’s thoughts on race and otherness, and how these things affect literature and lives around the world.
[Morrison] is doing what she does best, using historical, personal and current events to explore how racism continues to divide society. Drawing on issues of globalization and the mass movement of people, she explores how the presence of others contributes to belonging. The book is as good as I had expected. Morrison’s narrative is both powerful and chilling as she takes us on a journey that shocks and enlightens but forever reminds us that, ‘The definition of Americanness (sadly) remains color for many people.’
Times Higher Education - Kalwant Bhopal
A slim volume that contains multitudes. It can be read in one sitting, yet it’s a book that readers will likely return to frequently for its conceptual richness, catholic knowledge, and political imagination…Literature, Morrison argues throughout
The Origin of Others, is central to shaping social imaginations of hate, and conversely, literature has the potential to help us envision better worlds and better futures…Morrison deftly moves between literary analysis, personal memoir, historical research, critical theory, and politics. And moreover, she does so with incredible clarity and grace. Her intended audience is not specialists in narrow fields, but wide and broad publics…We live in a regime in which nation-states can blind us from seeing the tragedies and genocides unfolding beyond our artificial borders. Toni Morrison's latest book challenges us in subtle and profound ways to see beyond such artifices. We need literary fictions to see the many violences of our political fictions.
In this era of stark division, distrust and state-sponsored xenophobia, it is hard to imagine a more timely and laudable message than the plea for understanding, with its separation of the fact of culture from notions of racial essentialism, and its implicit faith in the importance, and transformative power, of literature.
Times Literary Supplement - Clifford Thompson
The autobiographical moments in
The Origin of Others are the most interesting paragraphs within this book. Peeking into the life of this Pulitzer Prize–winning author’s personal life to understand her concerns for black America, provides a logical solution in shaping black identitycontrol our narrative… The Origin of Others moved me to be more conscious of what type of language and behavior I, a hip-hop journalist and aspiring historian, put into the world.
A painful and powerful study of race as it affected [Morrison’s] writing and her reading. The book is clear and challenging. Attitudes are eloquently investigated.
Irish Times - Eavan Boland
There is another aspect to otherness: how we cope, survive, rationalize and discriminate by creating, in our minds and habits, others. No book addresses this more profoundly than Toni Morrison’s small book of essays,
The Origin of Others…It’s Trumpism that makes her insights essential now…Morrison addresses the ‘romancing of slavery’ in our literature and history. She looks carefully at what ‘being or becoming a stranger’ means in American life. She analyzes our fetishes with darkness, our preoccupations with blackness and the tropes we perpetuate regarding Africa: menace, depravity, incomprehensibility. This is not easy, comforting reading for a Christmas morning, but it is a book we need to be talking about.
Morrison expertly dissects the nuanced conversations around race and why they matter.
Morrison has much to say about events that are not only on the American mind, but the global one, as she ranges over nostalgic returns to slavery, the pervasive use of racial epithets by white writers, and the forced migration of an unprecedented number of displaced people…In
The Origin of Others, Morrison revisits ways of reading American literature, but also expands her scope to ponder the meaning of race itself, and how it lodges itself in both individual and collective imaginaries.
Los Angeles Review of Books - Yogita Goyal
Morrison explores how cultures, societies, and individuals develop the notion of the Other, the reasons for it, the perceived benefits of distinguishing based on what many insist are racial traits despite the slipperiness of concepts of race…In this slim volume, Morrison shares again her enormous talent for examining the complexity of race and racial identity, the inhumanity that results from ‘othering’ a fellow human being, the justifications for cruelty that has resulted in romanticized images of slavery and oppression, and how the perversity of racism reverberates through centuries.
This is an intriguing and timely series of reflections on race, fear, belonging and otherness.
The ARTery - Louise Kennedy
From legendary writer and thinker Toni Morrison comes a book that deals with one of the thorniest topics of our time: race…What is race? What motivates us to construct otherness? What makes us so afraid of one another? Probing, brilliant, and beautifully rendered,
The Origin of Others is destined to become one of the major sociological texts of our time.
Refinery29 - Elizabeth Kiefer
Morrison’s new book of essays,
The Origin of Others, shows that the sick, sad world in which her novels are set is an old oneone that she yearns to lean out of, one we’re falling right back into instead. The Origin of Others is, at once, a critique, memoir, and writer’s notebook; the Nobel Prize–winning author explicates the observations and inspirations behind some of her most prized novels. The book draws from her Norton Lectures, in which she discusses race, borders, history, and other literary heavyweights such as Flannery O’Connor and Ernest Hemingway. Readers could consider this book a companion to her Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, if they want a pellucid look at the racial minefield throughout American literature.
The Millions - Kaila Philo
It is hard not to want more than an afternoon with her incisive mind…Her essays are richly embellished with anecdote and memory, but grounded in literary analysis. Morrison looks to literature as a potent site of prejudicial tuition…Drafted in the months before Brexit and Donald Trump, it is hard not to see
The Origin of Others as politically prescient.
The Australian - Beejay Silcox
For those who want to understand better the process of inventing others, its literary past, and the tendency in us all to dismiss others clamoring for a sense of belonging,
The Origin of Others is a must-read. Morrison’s fans will appreciate her hauntingly clear reading of the times, even while she remains true to her literary aesthetic. New readers can look to this text as a foray into the mind of one of the greatest thinkers of our time. With the same revolutionary simplicity as Martin Buber’s I and Thou, Morrison reminds us once again that whatever can be said of the self is always determined by how one stands in relation to the other.
Christian Century - Audrey Thompson
If you’ve ever wanted to take a peek into the brilliant mind of Toni Morrison, look no further than her latest book. In
The Origin of Others, Morrison dissects all the thematic elements that frequent her work, and sheds light on what inspires her and what keeps her up at night. Based on her Norton Lectures, the renowned novelist delves deep into how literature has shaped society’s perceptions of race over the years, as well as how some of her most beloved books came to be. Plus, it has a brilliant introduction from Ta-Nehisi Coates!
[A] slender but profound volume.
The Origin of Others is a must read.
Every literature lover who dreams of studying with Toni Morrison will devour
The Origin of Others, a new collection of her Harvard lectures on race, literature, and otherness.
San Diego Magazine - Angela Carone
What is sure to be her most personal and self-reflecting work in nonfiction yet, Morrison delves further into the themes that have always been crucial to her canon: race, politics, history, identity, et al.
W Magazine - Maura M. Lynch and Jinnie Lee
May be [Morrison’s] most comprehensive look at race in America to date.
[Morrison] traces through American literature patterns of thought and behavior that subtly code who belongs and who doesn’t, who is accepted in and who is cast out as ‘Other.’ …
The Origin of Others combines Toni Morrison’s accustomed eloquence with meaning for our times as citizens of the world.
New Republic - Nell Irvin Painter
The Origin of Others gives readers around the world a chance to take a peek inside the insightful mind of one of America’s most celebrated novelists… Equal parts challenging and engaging, reading The Origin of Others is like learning from the literary legend herself.
It is hard not to read Toni Morrison’s
The Origin of Others in the light of recent disturbing political developments in the U.S… Morrison considers the fetishization of skin color and the questions posed by our era of mass migration, and offers elegant reminders of some well-known but still unpalatable facts… She shows how a single word choice in a Hemingway novel can exploit and fortify any number of racialized fetishes and revulsions, and she also explains, with a dispassionate attention to technique, why and how Hemingway made such choices as a writer, the useful short cuts they allowed him to take for the purposes of narrative and character and mood.
The Guardian - Lidija Haas
Morrison trains her well-aimed pen at the themes that only a titan such as herself can so gracefully take on like race, fear, borders and the mass movement of people, for example.
NBC News - Lesley-Ann Brown
Toni Morrison is the one of the great contemporary analysts of race and identity…Here she develops in a more concerted way than we find in her earlier work the means by which racist ideologies obliterate the possibility of knowing others, and stifle the chance we are afforded to gain knowledge of ourselves…Morrison draws on a series of episodes from [America’s] literature and history, and examines them in relation to salient moments from her own life. The resulting work is transformative, exhilarating, distressing. And acutely and urgently necessary…
The Origin of Others is full of insights. They are made all the more persuasive by Morrison’s elegant, plangent prose, and by her refusal to exclude herself from those mythologies of otherness of which we are all the unhappy legatees. To read this wise, probing and inspiring book is to acquaint yourself with a writer who is a foe of that inheritance and a vital friend of the human project.
The National - Matthew Adams
In a series of essays that provides equally unique insights into American literary history and Morrison’s own mind,
The Origin of Others explores how otherness, particularly racial difference, is socially constructed, and the ways Morrison has always worked to explore and confound that construct through her writing.
The Literary Show Project - Emily Lever
The Nobel Prize–winning novelist employs literary criticism, history, and memoir to illustrate how power imagines difference in order to legitimize oppression… As Barack Obama completed a two-term presidency, and his attorneys general launched investigations into police brutality across the country, it seemed reasonable to assume that the United States was finally preparing to acknowledge and address the structural racism that underpins its society. The intervening year has exposed that as a dangerous assumption, and made required reading of a book that, in any sane version of the present, should have marked how much progress had recently been made and how far was yet to go.
Essays focused on an overarching question: "What is race (other than genetic imagination), and why does it matter?"Melding memoir, history, and trenchant literary analysis, Nobel Prize laureate Morrison (Emeritus, Humanities/Princeton Univ.; God Help the Child, 2015, etc.) offers perceptive reflections on the configuration of Otherness. Revised from her Norton Lectures at Harvard, the volume consists of six essays that consider how race is conceived, internalized, and culturally transmitted, drawing in part on writers such as Hemingway, Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Joseph Conrad, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the African writer Camara Laye, whose novel The Radiance of the King Morrison greatly admires. Laye told the story of a white man, stranded and destitute in Africa, struggling to maintain his assumptions of white privilege. For Morrison, the novel illuminates the pressures that "make us deny the foreigner in ourselves and make us resist to the death the commonness of humanity." She also offers insightful glosses into her own aims as a novelist. "Narrative fiction," she writes, "provides a controlled wilderness, an opportunity to be and to become the Other. The stranger. With sympathy, clarity, and the risk of self-examination." In Beloved, for example, she reimagined the story of Margaret Garner, a slave who had killed her children rather than see them enslaved, as she had been. In A Mercy, she examined "the journey from sympathetic race relations to violent ones fostered by religion." In Paradise, she delved into the issue of hierarchies of blackness by looking at "the contradictory results of devising a purely raced community"; she purposely did not identify her characters' race in order to "simultaneously de-fang and theatricalize race, signaling, I hoped, how moveable and hopelessly meaningless the construct was." In God Help the Child, Morrison considered "the triumphalism and deception that colorism fosters." Her current novel in progress, she discloses, explores "the education of a racist—how does one move from a non-racial womb to the womb of racism"? As sharp and insightful as one would expect from this acclaimed author.