The National Book Critics Circle not only honors outstanding writing, it calls out this writing that starts a national conversation, reshapes literary culture, and even acts as a catalyst for change. So it's no surprise that the National Book Critics Circle would choose to honor Toni Morrison for its 2014 Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, but it is a very, very welcome announcement. The NBCC recognized Morrison's full life of artistic contributions:
Morrison, 83, has been a powerful catalyst in reshaping literary culture over the past half century. ... As a frequent public spokesperson for freedom of expression, the power of the written word, and the role of the artist, Toni Morrison has articulated a vision of the role of the writer that is both courageous and inspiring.
What else can we all say to that but, "Agreed"?
Through her novels, her work as a book editor, and her cultural critiques Morrison has inspired generations of high school and college students as well as grown-ups with her rich characters (particularly when it comes to women, and double particularly when it comes to black women), her poetic hand at storytelling, and the way she brought underrepresented narratives to the forefront.
Morrison already has more awards than you could count on both hands and both feet — let's see, there's the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Beloved, 2012's Presidential Medal of Freedom, the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, and, hell, even a Grammy nod, among many, many others — but it's crucial to continue to honor writers such as Morrison who push these diverse narratives and world views into the culture. Though, with a new book out this year, it doesn't seem Morrison herself seems to be stopping anytime soon.
As a book editor, Morrison affected change by spotlighting the work of other underrepresented women and stories, such as 1974's The Black Book, which through hundreds of photographs, reprints, and articles tells loads of stories about African American culture and history, particularly the black experience in America. She also wrote the literary critique, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination and What Moves at the Margin.
Along with this announcement, the National Book Critics Circle also released the 2014 finalists for best book in autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, general nonfiction, and poetry. Those award winners will be presented on March 12.