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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI professor’s book examines author Toni Morrison

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KINGSTON, R.I.—June 10, 2009—Karen Stein of Kingston, a professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island, has been a fan of author Toni Morrison since she read her first novel, The Bluest Eye.

Nearly 40 years later, the fan has authored a book about Morrison who --with Nobel and Pulitzer prizes--is considered one of America’s most celebrated contemporary authors.

Stein’s book, Reading, Learning, Teaching Toni Morrison (Peter Lang Publishing Group 2009) is intended for teachers, students, and readers who want to learn more about Morrison’s life and work.

“Morrison challenges us to re-think our deeply held beliefs about ourselves and our values, as she examines the tangled and complex issues of race, gender, and class in the context of American history and culture,” says Stein. “She is retelling, revising, re-imagining the history and culture of African Americans. She gives voice to a fascinating spectrum of characters with their hopes and dreams, their fears and frustrations, and their glories and failures –characters that we have not previously heard from. While her powerful novels captivate their audiences, they require readers to unravel their multi-layered meanings.

“Her most powerful novel, Beloved, re-presents the trauma of slavery in new ways. In Jazz she provides a counter narrative to the more customary tale of the flamboyant flappers. She tells the tale of ordinary African-American people in Harlem,” says Stein.

A skillful writer who employs metaphor and humor, Morrison draws material from many traditions, including the Greek classics, the Bible, and African epics. Although her work is about the African-American experience, and women's experience, she addresses issues that are central to human relationships: betrayal, motherhood, and friendship and the ways language works to promote or impede mutual understanding.

“Her books have often been challenged by those who want to censor them because they ask deep and troubling questions about the human condition, and about what life has been like for African Americans, women, and other marginalized people,” notes Stein who has lectured, taught, and published articles on numerous women authors including Morrison, Sylvia Plath, and Adrienne Rich. Her book on Canada’s Margaret Atwood, Atwood Revisited, was published in 1999.

“Both Atwood and Morrison are talented writers who research their subject matter thoroughly. While Atwood's works tend to be more satirical, both authors draw on long literary traditions to structure and nuance their work, and also to question, explore, and explode literary conventions,” says the URI professor. “For example, both have written historical novels, but in each case their stories are deeper, developing characters more fully than such novels usually do. Atwood's Alias Grace refuses to tie up the loose plot ends and answer the mysteries raised by the novel. Morrison's newest novel, A Mercy, presents a more complex view of early North American colonization than we learn in school. She weaves together the stories of white European settlers, Native Americans, and African Americans, indentured servants, and slaves to discover the ways that intersections of class and ethnicity evolved in the shaping of North American society.”

Reading, Learning, Teaching Toni Morrison can be purchased through Amazon and peterlang.com.