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Toni Morrison: Loss of Home

The joy of Morrison's Nobel was soon tempered by terrible news. On Christmas Day 1993, less than three months after she received the honor, a stray spark from the fireplace ignited a fire at her Rockland County, New York home. The home burned to the ground, destroying decades' worth of memories. "When I think about the fire, I think I may not ever, ever, ever get over it," Morrison later said. "And it isn't even about the things. It's about photographs, plants I nurtured for 20 years, about the view of the Hudson River, my children's report cards, my manuscripts."14 Despite her grief, Morrison refused to pity herself for the timing of the events. "I regard the fact that my house burned down after I won the Nobel Prize to be better than having my house burn down without having won the Nobel Prize," she said. "Most people's houses just burn down. Period."15

After grieving her loss, Morrison got back to work. She continued to teach at Princeton. In 1999, she published a children's book with her son Slade entitled The Big Box. She also published Paradise, her first post-Nobel novel, which received the additional scrutiny one can expect of a writer's first novel after winning the Nobel Prize. Perhaps in answer to her critics, she and Slade wrote a second children's book entitled The Book of Mean People. In 2003, Morrison wrote her eighth novel, Love. She retired from Princeton in 2006, and two years after that she published her ninth and most recent novel, A Mercy.

Because Morrison chooses to write about black people, she has been questioned, accused of being exclusionary, or even racist. She says she's noticed that many of the audience's questions at her readings have more to do with sociology than fiction. Morrison deftly points out to those who question her that nobody says anything when white writers only produce books about white people. "My choice was as effortless as Dostoyevsky's, and if no one could ask him why he 'only' wrote about Russians, why ask me why I 'only' write about black people?" Morrison told one interviewer. "White writers are seen as unraced - the norm."16

Now in her seventies, Morrison is active, frequently traveling and lecturing. In 2008, she inaugurated the first "Bench by the Road," a series of memorials to enslaved African-Americans that was conceived after Morrison pointed out that no such memorial existed. And she continues to write. For Toni Morrison, there is no such thing as settling. "I haven't succeeded at anything," Morrison once said. "I have written good, and sometimes great books. But, for me, success is not a public thing. It's a private thing. It's when you have fewer and fewer regrets."17

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