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Toni Morrison’s only short story republished as stand-alone work

<h5>A portrait of Toni Morrison, commissioned several year ago, is displayed inside Morrison Hall.</h5>
<h6><strong>Photo Courtesy of the Office of Communications</strong></h6>
A portrait of Toni Morrison, commissioned several year ago, is displayed inside Morrison Hall.
Photo Courtesy of the Office of Communications

“Recitatif,” Toni Morrison’s only short story, was published on Tuesday, Feb. 1, nearly three years after the novelist’s and University professor’s death. This is the first time it appears in print as a stand-alone work.

“‘Recitatif’ is more than the introduction of a very rare Toni Morrison short story to the general reading public in book form — it is also a marvelous reminder of what a risk-taker she was as a writer,” wrote Rowan Ricardo Phillips, a visiting professor of creative writing at the University, in an email to The Daily Princetonian.

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The story, written in 1980 and originally published in 1983, is about two orphaned girls, Twyla and Roberta. One child is Black and one is white, but Morrison doesn’t specify the race of the individual characters. In the orphanage, the two children bond over the rejection they both face. Later, Twyla and Roberta meet again during a series of encounters.

“Morrison wants us ashamed of how we treat the powerless, even if we, too, feel powerless,” wrote best-selling novelist Zadie Smith in the book’s introduction.

Ari Riggins ’23 told the ‘Prince’ she was particularly excited by the story’s release. 

“I can relate to a lot of the feelings described [in her work], like the sense of being lost but looking for something,” Riggins said.

Morrison described “Recitatif” in her work of literary criticism “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination” as “an experiment in the removal of all racial codes from a narrative about two characters of different races for whom racial identity is crucial.”

“Recitatif” has received critical acclaim.

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“The author’s experiment pays off brilliantly, forcing the reader to consider racial stereotypes while also providing an indelible story,” read an advance review in Publisher's Weekly. “The gravitas and unparalleled skill found in Morrison’s best-known work is on full display in this compact powerhouse.”

Morrison joined the University in 1989 as the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Council of the Humanities. She taught courses in creative writing and African American Studies. She won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, and founded Princeton’s interdisciplinary Atelier arts program the following year. In 2017, West Hall was renamed Morrison Hall to commemorate her legacy, and became the first building on campus named for a Black woman. Morrison Hall is home to the Department of African American Studies and the Effron Center for the Study of America. 

After her death in 2019, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution in her honor. The Princeton University Library will also hold a historic exhibition about her work and life, scheduled to open in spring 2023.

Danielle Ranucci is a staff news writer who typically covers human interest stories. She can be reached at dranucci@princeton.edu or on Twitter @DanielleRanucci.

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