'Recitatif,' Toni Morrison's only short story, is now available as a book The late Nobel laureate and novelist was known for her examination of the Black experience. "Recitatif" is about two girls, one Black and one white, but doesn't reveal which is which.

Toni Morrison's only short story is available in book form for the first time

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Nobel laureate Toni Morrison is famous for those classic novels like "The Bluest Eye," "Beloved," "Song Of Solomon." She was less known for her short stories. In fact, she's only written one. It is being republished today.


It is called "Recitatif." It's a French word to describe something with a musical quality, which makes sense to Honoree Jeffers, a poet who teaches at the University of Oklahoma.

HONOREE JEFFERS: When you think about the short story, there's always this sort of humming under the surface, and that humming is race in America.

FADEL: The story is about two girls, Twyla and Roberta, who are both wards of the state and spend four months together in a shelter. One is Black, and the other is white. But Morrison doesn't tell the reader which girl is which. Jeffers says she noticed how Toni Morrison's story challenged stereotypes she herself held about Black and white people.

JEFFERS: I began to find myself sort of searching for clues of who was Black, who was white. I stopped myself to back away from the story and ask, why did I need to know so badly?

INSKEEP: Jeffers says when you stop focusing on their race, you see something else.

JEFFERS: You begin to see a domestic story emerge about how girls grow up in our society, about how women are shuttled into these smaller categories many times. And then it becomes - or at least it became for me - a story about gender.

FADEL: With the republishing of Morrison's story comes another opportunity to examine the way Black writers are critiqued.

JEFFERS: These issues of race constantly come up in ways that they don't come up for white writers. 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. Only writers of color, and in particular African American writers, are asked to do that.

INSKEEP: Toni Morrison wrote "Recitatif" in 1983. A couple of generations later, it's published in a country that has changed, though maybe not all that much.

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