ISSUE DATE: Jan. 19, 1998
After finishing her sixth novel, Jazz, published in 1992, Toni Morrison began casting about for the subject of her next book. Constant reading, a habit and passion she developed as a little girl, eventually led her to an obscure chapter in 19th century U.S. history, shortly after the Civil War: the westward emigration of former slaves into the sparsely settled territories of Oklahoma and beyond. Some found the promise of a new life in wide-open spaces, touted in numerous newspaper advertisements in the 1870s, irresistible, and a challenge besides. Morrison was struck by a caveat that often appeared in those ads: “Come Prepared or Not at All.”
As she began imagining how this historical material might generate a work of fiction, Morrison bumped into one of the banes of creative artists everywhere: the intrusion of the outside world into the space of private concentration. Drat the luck, in October 1993 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
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