‘Recitatif’, Toni Morrison’s only short story, is now available as a book : NPR

Author Toni Morrison pictured at Princeton University in New Jersey in October 1993. She is known for her 11 novels, but her one short story has often been forgotten.

Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images

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Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images

Author Toni Morrison pictured at Princeton University in New Jersey in October 1993. She is known for her 11 novels, but her one short story has often been forgotten.

Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images

Toni Morrison, the late author and Nobel laureate whose work focused on black life and culture, published 11 acclaimed novels, several collections of essays, about half a dozen children’s books, and just one short story: Recitative.

recitative was originally published in a 1983 anthology that has since gone out of print and was rarely seen in the intervening decades, as the Associated Press reported. But it’s making a comeback, this time in book form.

The republished story will hit shelves and online stores Tuesday in what Knopf Doubleday says is the first hardcover edition. The book includes an introduction by writer Zadie Smith, and the audio edition is read by actor Bahni Turpin.

Its title refers to the French word for “recitative”, which Merriam-Webster describes as a “rhythmically free vocal style that mimics the natural inflections of speech”.

“When you think about the story, there’s always kind of a buzz under the surface,” said Honorée Jeffers, a poet who teaches at the University of Oklahoma. “And that buzzing under the surface is race, in America.”

The story follows two girls, Twyla and Roberta, who spend several months as roommates at a children’s shelter, meeting occasionally as adults. One is black and the other is white, but Morrison doesn’t tell the reader which is which.

Morrison once described the book as “an experiment in removing all racial codes from a narrative about two characters of different races for whom racial identity is crucial.” She refers to things like hair length, social status, and family memories throughout, keeping readers guessing and thinking.

Jeffers said morning edition that she noted that the story challenged the stereotypes she herself had about black and white people.

She described searching for clues about the characters’ races, only to finally step back and wonder, “Why did I need to know so much?” When she stopped focusing on race, she said, she saw the story in a different light.

“You start to see a domestic story emerge, about how girls grow up in our society, about how women are transported into these smaller categories, many times,” Jeffers said. “And then it becomes, or at least became for me, a story about gender.”

Autumn M. Womack, a professor of English and African-American studies at Princeton University, told the AP that recitative discusses themes found in Morrison’s novels, such as the complicated relationship between two women in 1973 Sula and the racial blur you used in Paradise in the late 1990s.

But he also noted the important differences between the short story and Morrison’s longer works.

“One of the main conclusions of [Recitatif] it’s that you’ll start to think of her as someone who experimented with form,” Womack said. “You’ll move away from the idea that she was just a novelist and think of her as someone who was trying all kinds of writing. “

Jeffers says that going back to print also offers another opportunity to examine how black writers are criticized.

“These questions of race come up constantly in ways that they don’t come up for white writers,” he explains. “White writers are never asked why they wrote about white characters, white writers are never asked to justify the importance of what they’re writing about. Only writers of color, and African-American writers in particular, He asks them to do that.”

The audio for this story was produced by Ziad Buchh and Ben Abrams.

The digital version of this story originally appeared on the morning edition live blog

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