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Goodness and the Literary Imagination

Harvard's 95th Ingersoll Lecture with Essays on Morrison's Moral and Religious Vision
Toni Morrison. Edited by David Carrasco, Stephanie Paulsell, and Mara Willard

BUY Cloth · 256 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813943626 · $27.95 · Oct 2019
BUY Ebook · 256 pp. · ISBN 9780813943633 · $27.95 · Oct 2019

What exactly is goodness? Where is it found in the literary imagination? Toni Morrison, one of American letters’ greatest voices, pondered these perplexing questions in her celebrated Ingersoll Lecture, delivered at Harvard University in 2012 and published now for the first time in book form.

Perhaps because it is overshadowed by the more easily defined evil, goodness often escapes our attention. Recalling many literary examples, from Ahab to Coetzee’s Michael K, Morrison seeks the essence of goodness and ponders its significant place in her writing. She considers the concept in relation to unforgettable characters from her own works of fiction and arrives at conclusions that are both eloquent and edifying. In a lively interview conducted for this book, Morrison further elaborates on her lecture’s ideas, discussing goodness not only in literature but in society and history—particularly black history, which has responded to centuries of brutality with profound creativity.

Morrison’s essay is followed by a series of responses by scholars in the fields of religion, ethics, history, and literature to her thoughts on goodness and evil, mercy and love, racism and self-destruction, language and liberation, together with close examination of literary and theoretical expressions from her works. Each of these contributions, written by a scholar of religion, considers the legacy of slavery and how it continues to shape our memories, our complicities, our outcries, our lives, our communities, our literature, and our faith. In addition, the contributors engage the religious orientation in Morrison’s novels so that readers who encounter her many memorable characters such as Sula, Beloved, or Frank Money will learn and appreciate how Morrison’s notions of goodness and mercy also reflect her understanding of the sacred and the human spirit.


"The publication of this extraordinary book could not have arrived at a more propitious moment. At a time when the country as a whole seems tormented by the corrosive presence of a new kind of evil that is trying to banish any memory, much less evidence, of its opposite, Goodness and the Literary Imagination reminds readers of evil’s opposite, but in forms that Morrison’s fiction renders again strange. Its publication should be treated as a major event; its contribution to American literary and religious studies is absolutely assured."

—Giles Gunn, University of California, Santa Barbara, Emeritus, author of The Pragmatist Turn: Religion, the Enlightenment, and the Formation of American Literature

A volume that attests to Morrison's singularity, with a cultural resonance that extends well beyond literature.

Kirkus Reviews

About the Author: 

Toni Morrison was the author of eleven novels, from The Bluest Eye (1970) to God Help the Child (2015). She received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1993 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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