MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

The Barbershop guys are a few minutes away. But first, another tribute in our Black History Month series. We've invited members of the TELL ME MORE staff, some of our guests, and our NPR colleagues to share stories about the figure or event from black history that they most admire. Today we spotlight a Nobel Prize winner.

MONIKA EVSTATIEVA: I'm Monika Evstatieva, an assistant producer and director here at TELL ME MORE. And my black history hero is the one and only Toni Morrison. She has captivated millions of readers with her rich characters and stunning dialogues. The novelist is the only living American winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. And she never shies away from addressing reality, as painful as it might be.

Ms. TONI MORRISON (Author): Racism will disappear when it's A) no longer profitable, and no longer psychologically useful. But at the moment people make a lot of money off of it, pro and con, and also it protects people from a certain kind of pain. If you take racism away from certain people, they may have to face something really terrible - misery, self-misery, and deep pain about who they are.

EVSTATIEVA: I first read "Beloved" and "A Mercy" as a young adult after coming to the States from the Balkans. To me her genius is storytelling that is so vivid, I could actually relive a generation's, a nation's joy and sorrow. English author Edward Morgan Forster once said creative writers are always greater than the causes they represent. And Toni Morrison is just that.

MARTIN: That was the one and only Monika Evstatieva, assistant producer and director of this program, celebrating her black history hero, Toni Morrison, who is celebrating her birthday today. Happy birthday, Toni.

To browse the full series of TELL ME MORE black history essays, log on to NPR.org and in the search field type: black history heroes.

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