Toni Morrison frequently said that she wrote her first novel, The Bluest Eye, because she could not find, in the literary world around her, the fictional voice of young black women. In the years between 1965 and her death in 2019, Morrison both edited and authored a body of work which answered that need and valorized its literary merits. This essay attends to the question of reading publics, specifically to the interactions between the discourse of literature and literary production disseminated by Morrison in the late twentieth century and the implications of this discourse for the reception of her work and persona. I argue that Morrison, who operates in the literary sphere not only as a novelist, but also as a professor, an editor, and a public intellectual, addresses herself to an expansive, disparate readership (mass, literary, and academic; black and non-black) in order to open up fiction to new audiences through a narrative that insists on the value of literature as a participatory and public artifact. Drawing from studies of fictionality and from the interrelation of literary sociology with novel theory, I delineate the tensions between the material practices and rarefied literary languages which animate Morrison's editorial work, her discourse of reading, and her self-authored forewords.


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pp. 239-257
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