Review by E. Kirshe
“A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are a necessity,” writes Toni Morrison in the prologue of her latest book, The Source of Self-Regard. This collection of work, spanning four decades, goes on to show just how necessary Morrison is to our literary canon and how illuminating to our society.
At 88 years old Morrison has a rich life’s worth of insightful nuance, analysis, and empathy to offer on topics that range from feminism, colonialism, money, human rights, and immigration, to meditations on culture and art. Though a lot of ground is covered (and how could it not be? Morrison has been a literary beast since the 70s) this collection of previously published essays is cohesive in that it’s hers. It is divided into three parts: the first begins with a prayer for the dead of 9/11; the second with a meditation on Martin Luther King Jr.; and the last with a beautiful and personal eulogy for James Baldwin.
Considering the sheer volume of work here it is impossible to cover the whole without writing a novel-length review. I will say that some of the work here really stood out to me often because no matter when a piece is from, Morrison’s work is unquestionably relatable to our present. This is large because she observes and perfectly captures society- she has the ability to cut right to the heart of a matter. Morrison refers to how the media operated during the OJ trial as an “age of spectacle,” taking down their penchant for turning what should be straight news into entertainment, and we know those patterns haven’t changed at all in today’s media landscape.
Not only do many of Morrison’s pieces ring out truth in much the same way it’s obvious that they do because she’s doing her job as a writer. Every piece answers what the role of what the artist in society should be because she uses her work to analyze, critique, and offer answers for our world- “constructing meaning in the face of chaos,” as she writes in Peril.
Reading this collection is to spend time in the mind of someone brilliant. As Morrison said in her eulogy for Baldwin “You gave us ourselves to think about, to cherish.” After reading through everything Morrison has to offer in The Source of Self-Regard you’ll be reminded that she may as well have been talking about herself.
The Source of Self-Regard is now available from Knopf.