Author and critic John Leonard died November 6 at 69. He will be missed by all who love literature, especially here at The Nation, where he was literary co-editor with Sue Leonard from 1995 to 1998. In this 1994 piece, he chronicles Toni Morrison’s journey to Stockhold to receive the Nobel Prize for literature.
Nation history, Literature Travels With Toni Overmatter Author and critic John Leonard died November 6 at 69. He will be missed by all who love literature, especially here at The Nation, where he was literary co-editor with Sue Leonard from 1995 to 1998. In this 1994 piece, he chronicles Toni Morrison’s journey to Stockhold to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. John Leonard, a former literary editor of The Nation, died November 6 at 69. We remember him by re-publishing this 1994 piece, in which he follows Toni Morrison to Stockholm, as she receives the Nobel Prize.
Listen I don’t know who is that woman singing but I know the words by heart. –(Jazz)
“Hi,” she said on the telephone, a week after the announcement. “This is Toni, your Nobelette. Are you ready for Stockholm?”
Well, since she asked, why not? I left town for Greek light, German sausage, Russian soul, French sauce, Spanish bull, Zen jokes, the Heart of Darkness and the Blood of the Lamb. Toni Morrison’s butter cakes and baby ghosts, her blade of blackbirds and her graveyard loves, her Not Doctor Street and No Mercy Hospital and all those maple syrup men “with the long-distance eyes” are a whole lot more transfiguring. Where else but Stockholm, even if she does seem to have been promiscuous with her invitations. I mean, she asked Bill Clinton, too, whose inaugural she had attended, and with whom she was intimate at a White House dinner party in March. (He told Toni’s agent, Amanda “Binky” Urban, that he really wanted to go but… they wouldn’t let him.) Salman Rushdie might also have gone except that the Swedish Academy declined officially to endorse him in his martyrdom, after which gutlessness three of the obligatory eighteen academicians resigned in protest, and can’t be replaced, because you must die in your Stockholm saddle.
That neither of these imperial egos made the trip was a relief to some of us. It should have been Morrison’s occasion and nobody else’s, except maybe ours. While international capital flew in one direction and refugees moved reciprocally in the other, opposite, some of us dwelt among author-gods. Toni was Cleopatra, and Stockholm was her barge.
On the other hand, what were we–sons, sisters, nieces, cousins; editors, agents, critics; professors from Princeton, Harvard and City College; well-wishers, witnesses, celebrants, pilgrims, support-groupies, friends–Sgt. Pepper’s Not-So-Lonely Hearts Club Band? Perhaps The Boys (and Girls) in the Bus. Or, more grandly, Canterbury Tale-Tellers, canzone-singing Boccaccio-type fugitives from plague-stricken Florence, Greek mercenaries out of Xenophon’s Anabasis fighting their way back from Babylon to the Black Sea, the 108 bandit-heroes of The Water Margin (that Chinese Robin Hood, Chairman Mao’s favorite book), the courthopping Christian humanists of Marguerite of Navarre’s Heptameron, and maybe, too, the Buddhists who trooped with Tripitaka on his Journey to the West to bring back the Sutras from India, in which case Fran Lebowitz was clearly Stockholm’s equivalent of Hanuman the Monkey King, the shape-changing Trickster who so annoyed Lao-tse by eating the Peaches of Immortality.