Top Picks: Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is the subject of a new documentary, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, which premiered at Sundance and is coming to Chicago this summer. Including extensive interviews with Morrison herself, there are also conversations with other luminaries, including Walter Mosley, Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez and Oprah Winfrey. In celebration of the documentary, here's a look at some of the best works in Morrison's extensive bibliography.

Morrison burst onto the scene in 1970 with The Bluest Eye. Unseen and unloved, adolescent Pecora perceives that whiteness is the ticket to happiness. She wishes for blue eyes, and gets them, but at a devastating cost.

The title character in Sula has a tragic, dramatic end, but before that, she's able to escape her narrow community overlooking a white town in Ohio. She is childhood friends with Nel, who is just as smart, but does not share quite the same fate. Fire features prominently in this tale of small-mindedness.

Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize with Beloved, which Winfrey made into a movie by the same name. After the Civil War, Sethe, a former slave, has driven those closest to her away as a result of an act of deadly defiance. About to embark on a healthy relationship, she is visited by a woman whose identity is clear to everyone but her.

Bill Cosey is nominally at the center of Love, which is really about the women who orbit abound him and the thriving blacks-only resort he ran in the 1940s and 1950s. In the present day, there are feuding relatives and a contested will. Narrated by a discreet chef at the resort, this is a novel about power in the black community, who has it, what they do with it and what others will do to attain it.

Set during the colonial period, A Mercy was our fall 2010 One Book, One Chicago selection. A slave girl, payment for a bad debt, falls for a free blacksmith, her new owner tries to build a grand house, and it all goes south. Once again, the women are the focus as they tell the story from their own perspectives. 

Morrison also writes children's books with her son, Slade. Her series that riffs on Aesop's fables is delightfully illustrated by various artists. There's also Please, Louise, about the magic of libraries and reading as a tool to banish fear.

Finally, Morrison is well-known for her nonfiction, mostly essays and speeches. The Source of Self-regard is her latest work, a collection of mostly speeches (Morrison is quite the hot ticket and keeps a full schedule.) from 1976 to 2013, arranged thematically. Morrison hits many of the same themes as in her fiction, including racism and the legacy of the past, but may be at her best when praising fellow great writers such as James Baldwin and William Faulkner.

Have a favorite Morrison book not mentioned here? Tell us about it in the comments.

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