This is an outstanding and highly relevant selection of essays from the great American novelist and intellectual. She reflects on writing and literature, on prejudice and racism, and on politics and technology (among other things).
She gives highly personal tributes to friends and inspirations, including beautiful pieces on James Baldwin and Chinua Achebe and their influences on her own writing. On James Baldwin, she writes: “I never heard a single command from you, yet the demands you made on me, the challenges you issued to me were nevertheless unmistakeable if unenforced: that I work and think at the top of my form; that I stand on moral ground but know that ground must be shored up by mercy; that ‘the world is before [me] and [I] need not take it or leave it as it was when [I] came in’.” (p. 229). I have just read some of Achebe’s essays. Morrison’s explanation of the importance of his work in enlarging the horizons of writers who came after makes me determined to read his novels.
I did not intend to read Mouth Full of Blood straight through but rather to savour it, but ended up devouring it over a couple of weeks. Morrison has great clarity of mind and expression, and is unafraid of dealing with difficult and painful subjects. She remains deeply humane, and often funny too.
Despite the age of some of the pieces, the collection remains fresh and engaging. Some themes are timeless. On racism and fascism, and and how to recognise them, she writes: “Let us be reminded that before there is a final solution, there must be a first solution, a second one, even a third. The move towards a final solution is not a jump. It takes one step, then another, then another” (p. 14).