Toni Morrison—Novelist, Editor, Writer, and Educator

Born: 18 February 1931

Little Known Facts
Toni Morrison’s students at Howard University included Stokely Carmichael (of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC) and Claude Brown (author of Manchild in the Promised Land, 1965).

During Morrison’s editing of The Black Book in 1974, she discovered the horrific true story that inspired Beloved.

In early 1988, poet June Jordan and critic Houston A. Baker led a formal protest in the media that decried the whimsy through which the contribution to American Literature of Toni Morrison’s five novels had been overlooked. (Times)

Much Better Known Facts
Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford and has also been known as Chloe Ardelia Wofford, Chloe Wofford, and Toni Wofford.

She was appointed to a chair at Princeton University, becoming the first African-American woman writer to hold a named chair at an Ivy League university.

Toni Morrison is the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Snap Shot
Chloe Anthony Wofford was born in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio and, after demonstrating an early interest in literature; she studied humanities at Howard and then at Cornell University. She pursued an academic career at Texas Southern, Howard, and later at Yale and Princeton Universities. She worked as an editor for Random House. She’s also worked as a literary critic, and a lecturer specializing in African-American literature. She made her debut as the novelist Toni Morrison in 1970 and soon gained the attention of both critical and a popular audience for her epic power, her ear for dialogue, her vivid imagery, and her lyrical portrayals of Black America. She has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1981, and has earned a number of literary distinctions, among them the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, before receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. (Nobel)

Early Life and Non-Writing Career
Morrison grew up the second of four children in a black working-class family that possessed an intense appreciation for black culture, including storytelling, songs, and folktales that became an important part of her development. She earned a B.A. from Howard University (1953) where she became known as Toni and an M.A. from Cornell University (1955). She taught at Texas Southern University for two years and at Howard from 1957 to 1964. In 1965, she became a textbook editor for a subsidiary of Random House in Syracuse, New York; she worked home while raising two sons and producing her first novel. By the time she was finished with her manuscript in 1968, she had become a senior editor at Random House and the company was looking for an African-American editor to steer talent as the boom in black literary voices began. Beginning in 1984, she taught writing at the State University of New York at Albany; she joined the faculty of Princeton University in 1989.

Major Relationships
In 1958, Chloe Anthony Wofford married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect and faculty member at Howard. She divorced him in 1964 when he returned to Jamaica. That union produced two sons.

Writing Career
Toni Morrison’s first book, The Bluest Eye (1970), was an initiation story about an adolescent African-American girl obsessed with white standards of beauty and longing to have blue eyes. Her second novel, Sula (1973), examined, inter alia, the subtleties of friendship and the notions of conformity within a community. The third novel, Song of Solomon (1977), was an identity-searching story told by a male narrator in search of his identity, and this book brought Morrison to national attention. Then Tar Baby (1981), which was set on a Caribbean island, explored conflicts of race, class, and sex. Her fifth novel, Beloved (1987), was even more ambitious and probed rape, seduction, infanticide, alienation, powerlessness, regret, tyranny, and the paradox of motherhood under slavery and the workings of the supernatural.
In January of 1988, Morrison’s Beloved was nominated for the Ritz-Hemingway, the National Book, and the National Book Critic Circle awards, but won none of them. However, Beloved won Morrison her lasting recognition three months later when it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Since Beloved, Morrison has produced six more novels, two plays, a libretto, a number of children’s books, and a body of non-fiction. In addition to the notable awards below, she has been recognized several times for the impact of her body of work as a whole. In 1996, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Morrison for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities.

Morrison was awarded the 1996 National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters for being a writer “who has enriched our literary heritage over a life of service, or a corpus of work.”

Taking Another Look
Harold Bloom edited a volume of critical essays on Morrison shortly after her Pulitzer but before the Nobel Prize win, a time when she had five novels for the critics to examine and a time well into the era of politicized responses to narratives, dramas, and poems. He noted that societal and historical resentments could crowd out aesthetic considerations that are the heart of his concerns. In his introduction, he declares he will gauge Morrison’s achievements to that date in “the daunting context of her prime precursor figures, Faulkner and Woolf.”

Marilyn Sanders Mobley, commenting later in the same volume, offers an intertextual look at the relationship between the traditional slave narratives, the beginning of the American literary tradition in prose, and Morrison’s Beloved. She concludes that Morrison makes the details of the traditional narratives more accessible and that she uses memory fragments to explore the inner life of slaves and to more openly portray the dimensions of that life omitted in the traditional narratives as she examines the guilt, alienation and the shame from the psychic scarring of slavery.

Magical Realism
The central theme of Morrison’s novels is the black American experience struggling to find themselves and their own cultural identity within an unjust society. She uses fantasy, an almost poetic style, and a confluence of the mythic with the historical to create impressive force and texture. She also uses elements of magical realism when ambiguity suits her style.
Art Historian Ernst Gombrich developed a multi-faceted approach to the analysis of art that included psychoanalysis, Gestalt psychology, and scientific hypothesis testing. He saw the perceptual restructuring of an image in human visual perception as having two parts: projection of unconscious rules guiding our vision and process of inference, which has both conscious and unconscious components. He pointed out that it is the inference tools we use to resolve ambiguity, and it is the results of how we individually resolve ambiguities we find in works of art that are the bases for sometimes widely differing reactions to the same piece of art.

In The Age of Insight, author and neuroscientist, Eric Kandel, explains the contribution to the art-science dialogue of Ernst Kris, a contemporary art historian of Gombrich’s and also a psychoanalyst, as commencing the empirical investigation of processes of perception of both the artist and the beholder. Kris declared that when an artist produces a powerful image out of life experience and conflicts associate with those experiences, that image has in it an inherent ambiguity, which engages the thoughtful viewer. Kandel amplifies this by saying that the extent of the beholder’s share depends on the degree of ambiguity in the work.

Morrison’s thinking about ambiguity is reflected in her interview responses and her work:

“In order to be as free as I possibly can, in my own imagination, I can’t take positions that are closed. Everything I’ve ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it, to open doors, sometimes, not even closing the book—leaving the endings open for reinterpretation, revisitation, a little ambiguity.”
Salon interview, Feb. 1998

“What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?”
Song of Solomon

We find Morrison a master practitioner of ambiguity in terms of outright fantasy such as in the opening lines of Beloved where we meet “124”—an address possessing the human capability of being spiteful and performing auto-kinetic demonstrations. Only a few pages later, as we are startled to realize we are inside Sethe’s memory of having to barter sex for the engraving of her toddler’s headstone, we are prompted to turn over whose face has the anger and a new appetite in it, realizing sadly that, whether it is the engraver or his young son looking on, there is a new generation being imbued with racial and probably misogynistic attitudes. Later in the story, we are teased by Faulkner’s brand of magical realism when the look at the threesome going to and coming from the fair with the shadows of their arms and hands appear to be holding hands, though the figures themselves are not. The possibility of a future for them as a threesome is almost palpable—and the central basis for hope in the story. The journey of the spirit portrayed by Morrison in Beloved has ambiguities to be resolved by the characters as well as the readers throughout and the questions that are left for us at the end of the story are truly haunting.

A Few Quotes of Toni Morrison

“I’m interested in the way in which the past affects the present and I think that if we understand a good deal more about history, we automatically understand a great more about contemporary life.” (Time interview, Jan. 21, 1998)

“Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God.”

“What I think the political correctness debate is really about is the power to be able to define. The definers want the power to name. And the defined are now taking that power away from them.”
New York Times Magazine, Sep. 11, 1994

A Few Quotes About Toni Morrison

“I reread Morrison because her imagination, whatever her social purposes, transcends ideology and polemics, and enters again into the literary space occupied only by fantasy and romance of authentic aesthetic dignity.” (Bloom)

“The text of Beloved ends with a call for silence and forgetting, but our response is not that at all…Instead, it is an ironic reminder that the process of consciously remembering not only empowers us to tell the difficult stories that must be passed on, but it also empowers us to make meaning of our individual and collective lives as well.” (Mobley in Bloom)

Selected Awards and Prizes Given to Toni Morrison

  • 1988—Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Beloved (1987)
  • 1993—Nobel Prize in Literature
  • 2001—National Arts and Humanities Award
  • 2010—Officer of the French Legion of Honour
  • 2012—Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • 2014—Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award given by the National Book Critics Circle

Notable Works
Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987)

Harold Bloom. Modern Critical Views: Tony Morrison, 1990.
Kandel, Eric R. The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain
From Vienna 1900 to the Present. New York: Random House, 2012.
“Black Writers in Praise of Toni Morrison,” The New York Times Books January 24, 1988
“Toni Morrison.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 17 Aug.
“Toni Morrison.” Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 18 Jun. 2015.
“Toni Morrison – Biographical.” Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 18 Jun 2015.


Richard Perkins is a regular contributor to The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review and a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing Program. He is writing an historical novel and revising a collection of connected stories.


Salman Rushdie—Novelist, Children’s Author, and Activist


Born: 19 June 1947

 Little known facts:

During the most violent period of the fatwa declared by the Supreme Leader of Iran calling for the death of Salman Rushdie, the author used the alias Joseph Anton—a pseudonym derived from his wish to honor Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov.

He won the 1992 Writers’ Guild Award for Best Children’s Book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

Egyptian novelist and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz believed The Satanic Verses was insulting to Islam, but, nonetheless, signed a petition with 80 other intellectuals, stating “no blasphemy harms Islam and Muslims so much as the call for murdering a writer”. Five years later, Islamic extremists stabbed the 82-year old Mahfouz in the neck. (Anthony)


Much better known facts:

On Valentine’s Day 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued the fatwa against Rushdie, declaring him an apostate for writing The Satanic Verses and sentencing him to death under Islamic law—along with those directly involved in the publishing and distribution of the novel.

As the violence and the fear grew, Penguin India shared in the umbra of the fatwa and began living behind barricades while bookshops in London and America were firebombed. In the following months, Islamists in Belgium shot two moderate imams; Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator, was stabbed to death in the face at work; a Norwegian publisher was; and an Italian publisher knifed.

Despite some journalistic misinterpretations that Iranian President Mohammed Khatami rescinded this fatwa in 1998, criticism by Iranian Parliament hardliners forced the Foreign Affairs Minister to state categorically that Tehran has not backed down on the Rushdie question. (BBC) Senior cleric Ahmad Khatami reminded worshippers at the Tehran Friday prayers in February of 2014 that the ‘historical fatwa’ is ‘as fresh as ever’. The $3.3M bounty remains on his head.


Snap Shot

Salman Rushdie was born in 1947 just prior to India’s independence. He was educated in India and in England, where he invested two decades becoming a critically acclaimed and commercially successful writer. Rushdie now lives in New York and insists that the danger presented to him by the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 has passed. He was the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emory University for five years; he was elected to the American Academy of Letters, and he became the president of American PEN. In addition to his novels, he is the author of five volumes of nonfiction, and a short-story collection. He continues to argue forcefully for freedom of expression around the world.


Early Life and Non-Writing Career

Rushdie was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) and was the only son in a Muslim family. He went to Cathedral School in Bombay and boarded at Rugby School in England. After Rugby, he went to Cambridge where his father expected him to study economics; however, he studied history instead and plumbed the origins of Islam.

After Cambridge, Rushdie secured a position in a small advertising agency called Sharp McManus, writing copy and writing fiction in his spare time until he published his first successful novel in this middle thirties.

Now living in the United States, he still thinks of himself as a British citizen of Indian origin and he refers to himself regularly as both a New Yorker and as a Londoner. “I probably think of those as being more exact definitions than the passport or the place of birth,” he says. (Livings)


Major Relationships

Salman Rushdie has been married to four women. He was married to Clarissa Luard from 1976 to 1987 and they produced a son, Zafar, in 1979. He left Clarissa in the mid-’80s for the Australian writer Robyn Davidson. His second wife was the American novelist Marianne Wiggins; they were married in 1988 and divorced in 1993. His third wife was Elizabeth West from 1997 to 2004 and they have a son, Milan, who was born in 1999. In 2004, he married the Indian American Padma Lakshmi, actress, model, and host of the American reality-television show Top Chef. They ended the marriage in 2007.


Writing Career

Salman Rushdie broke out as a writer with his publication of his novel Midnight’s Children that won a Booker Prize in 1981, followed by Shame two years later that was shortlisted for another Booker Prize. With those accomplishments, he caught the attention of the English speaking and reading world. Five years later, he finished The Satanic Verses and that earned him additional praise in the literary world as well as immediate and intense attention from the Muslim world—subsequently acknowledged as the major inflection point of his life.

In February of 1989, the dying Ayatollah Khomeini launched the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. It was not long before a private prosecutor tried to take him to trial for blasphemous libel in the U. K. The magistrate refused which led the prosecutor to appeal to the High Court. Thirteen Muslim barristers attempted to get the book banned and, in that process, they were forced to draft an indictment against Rushdie and his publishers, specifying with some legal precision the exact way in which the novel’s author had blasphemed.

Their efforts convinced Geoffrey Robertson, the Queen’s Counsel who defended Salman Rushdie in the trial, that The Satanic Verses is not blasphemous in that each of six specific claims was either a clear misreading of the novel’s satirical content or it was a theological mistake. “The book is the fictional story of two men, infused with Islam but confused by the temptations of the West. The first survives by returning to his roots. The other, Gibreel, poleaxed by his spiritual need to believe in God and his intellectual inability to return to the faith, finally kills himself. The plot, in short, is not an advertisement for apostasy.” Soon afterward the British blasphemy laws were eliminated as antiquated concepts—though not necessarily in other countries of the Commonwealth or in former members of the Commonwealth. (Robertson, “Looking”)

The Rushdie controversy is cited by some as the first demonstration of Islam’s globalization; there were clearly local politics involved in Muslim protest, but it was the reshaping of the global arena after the end of the Cold War that really framed the Rushdie affair. “The author and his book were incidental to this mobilization, which is why so few of its Muslim critics had read the novel.” The debate was “dominated by old-fashioned ideas about free expression. Confined as they legally are to individual countries, such ideas have no standing in the global arena where these controversies occur.” Devji, “Looking”)

It is also not clear that the Rushdie affair had much to do with religion: the closest British demonstrators came to a theological argument was to demand that their religion be included under Britain’s blasphemy law as an indication they were to be integrated into British society. (Devji, “Looking”)

“Right from the start, The Satanic Verses affair was less a theological dispute than an opportunity to exert political leverage. The background to the controversy was the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran to be the standard bearer of global Islam.” (Anthony)

After the infamous fatwa, Rushdie disappeared from public view and during the next 14 years, he met in secret with friends and associates, always accompanied by agents of Special Branch. “Living as a fugitive with no home, Salman occasionally had meetings in our flat in north London. On one occasion I asked my young colleague Elizabeth West to let him into the flat for a meeting. She was a great fan of his work and took on the task with alacrity. Some time later, she became Mrs. Rushdie the third.” (Calder, “Looking”)

“The fatwa ensured that the name Salman Rushdie is better known around the world than that of any other living novelist. But his reputation as a writer has hardly been eclipsed by the political assaults.” This is supported by the fact that in 1993, he was awarded the “Booker of Bookers” for Midnight’s Children—the best book to ever win the Man Booker Prize since it was established. (Livings)

Since 2000, Rushdie has lived in the United States, where he has worked at Emory University and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2012, he published Joseph Anton: A Memoir, an account of his life in the wake of the storm over The Satanic Verses.

Salman Rushdie recently came to PEN’s defense against the debate over awarding Charlie Hebdo the American PEN recognition for courage in issues of freedom of expression scheduled for May 9th. “This issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority,” he wrote. “It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organized, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, into a cowed silence.” (Mayer)


Taking Another Look

The 1988 Whitbread prize panel dissenter (2-1) admired Rushdie’s writing, but “The Satanic Verses was not,” in his opinion, “as successful a novel as Midnight’s Children or Shame. It was close to the last moment when the book could be judged solely on its literary merit.” (Shakespeare, Looking)

Zöe Heller, reviewing his memoir points out retrenchments and narrowing of viewpoint in Joseph Anton, and declares that the saddest is his altered attitude toward Islam. She notes that throughout the fatwa, Rushdie carefully resisted making Islam itself the enemy. “The thing called Islamism is not the same thing as Islam,” he said in 1995. “This political thing which we call fundamentalism, everybody is scared stiff of it. It is not a religious movement, it’s a political fascist movement which happens to be using a certain kind of religious language.”

Rushdie’s taste for this sort of distinction has since atrophied, she says. Now he regards any efforts to separate reactionary forms of Islam from Islam itself as dishonest and wrong, and Heller asks how are we to reconcile these sentiments with his belief in the artist’s role as a promoter of human tolerance? “The job of literature, he instructs us in the final pages of this memoir, is to encourage ‘understanding, sympathy and identification with people not like oneself…to make the world feel larger, wider than before.’” (Heller)

“Some readers may find, by the end of Joseph Anton, that the world feels rather smaller and grimmer than before. But they should not be unduly alarmed. The world is as large and as wide as it ever was; it’s just Rushdie who got small.” (Heller)

It is worth noting that Heller wrote her review and formed her viewpoint before the Boston Marathon Bombing, the ISIS beheading of Egyptian Christians kneeling on the shores of the Libyan Mediterranean, and the Charlie Hebdo slaughter. If one has been hunted and continues to by hunted, the world very likely does seem smaller. Why would anyone think the fatwa is over due to disinterest in apostates in today’s violent, politically-charged climate, the author’s shrugging off the danger to him notwithstanding?


Magical Realism

Magic realism is associated with Rushdie’s name because it was used as a narrative technique in his first three successful novels, Midnight’s Children (1981), the Shame (1983), and The Satanic Verses.

In Midnight’s Children, Rushdie used a “hyperbolic narrative – by turns lyric and vulgar, street smart and allusive – and a cast of improbable characters (a telepathic narrator, a child who can travel through time, another who can change sex at will) to create a parable of modern Indian history.” In Shame, he used as a setting that was ”not quite Pakistan” and a character named Raza Hyder who was reflective of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, the former President of Pakistan. Rushdie said the story he wanted to tell was ”a tragedy on a very large scale,” but its ”protagonists are not tragic actors.” (Kakutani)

He has used magic realism to try to capture “chaos of contemporary reality, its resemblance to a dream or nightmare”—to give the reader a “sense of just how fantastic recent history has become.” (Kakutani) The irony is unambiguously that the author’s life since the fatwa has only underscored this point at his personal expense.

Rushdie maintains that the writer has a responsibility to tackle the larger issues of the day: ”It seems to me imperative that literature enter such arguments,” he wrote in an essay, ”because what is being disputed is nothing less than what is the case, what is truth and what untruth, and the battleground is our imagination. If writers leave the business of making pictures of the world to politicians, it will be one of history’s great and most abject abdications.” (Kakutani)

“So what do we mean by ‘truth in literature?’” asks Rushdie. He says, “Clearly what we mean is human truth, not photographic, journalistic, recorded truth, but the truth we recognize as human beings. About how we are with each other, how we deal with each other, what are our strengths and our weaknesses, how we interact and what is the meaning of our lives?”  A flying carpet and Madam Bovary are untrue in the same way, and as a result both of them are ways of arriving at the truth by the road of untruth, and so then they can both do it the same way. Human truth is what you’re looking for and you can get to that by many different roads. (Miller)

Rushdie doesn’t see much of a similarity between himself and García Márquez. He points out that he wrote his first novel before he read Garcia Márquez. He alludes to the older tradition of magic realism, which is the one he says he learned from—with writers like Gogol and Dickens who understood that the surreal works only when it is rooted in the observed world. “If those roots weren’t there, then the fantasy wouldn’t work,” he says. (Meer)



“I knew my work did not appeal to the likes of radical mullahs…. There were one or two early readers, including Edward Said, who noticed that I’d taken these guys on and asked whether I was concerned about it. And in those innocent days, I said no…. The idea that it would even float across their field of vision seemed improbable, and I truthfully didn’t care. Why shouldn’t literature provoke? It always has.” (The Paris Review)

“The larger world gets into the story not because I want to write about politics, but because I want to write about people.” (The Paris Review)

“This idea that somehow the person under attack is responsible for the attack is a shifting of the blame—which seemed easy to do in 1989. Recently, in England, in the aftermath of the Al-Qaeda bombings, there’s been a lot of journalistic comment saying it all began with The Satanic Verses, and there’s total sympathy now for what was happening to me then. Nobody these days is saying it was my fault and I did it on purpose, because people understand the nature of radical Islam better.” (Paris Review)



“We received our first reality check in the form of some advice from the great Indian novelist and historian Khushwant Singh, who served as literary adviser to Penguin India. He said to me that we’d get into trouble if we published the novel, because there were passages in it that could be seized on by politicians and mullahs, taken out of context, and used to create mischief. This was news to me, as I was, at the time, largely ignorant of the history of Islam and its sacred texts.” (Davidar, “Looking”)

“Although Rushdie remains alive and well after nearly 24 years, spare a thought for the families of those who did not get away from this theocratic regime: the 162 democrats and dissidents assassinated in Europe; the thousands of atheist and Marxist prisoners murdered in prison; the green movement protesters and their lawyers (15 so far) who have been sentenced to long prison terms for being their lawyers. Had the world devised a way to bring this regime to justice for devising the Rushdie fatwa, we would not now have to worry about what it will do with nuclear weapons.” (“Looking”)

“In a hopeful attempt to accommodate his opponents, Rushdie spoke of his faith, or lack of it, as a God-shaped hole. His apology was firmly rebuffed by a committee of imams. He had always fought his own corner with eloquence, but now, increasingly after this rejection, he was fighting the corners of imprisoned or otherwise silenced writers around the world. Years later this advocacy culminated in his highly effective presidency of American PEN. He has brilliantly proved the uses of adversity.” (McEwan, “Looking”)

“Rushdie showed the rest of the world that literature, language and free speech are always at a premium. One of the most important things about The Satanic Verses is that Rushdie was speaking of uncertainty and asking the questions that anyone who believes also has to ask themselves. This came at a huge price, and all of us should be grateful to him for his bravery in being willing to pay it.” (Kureishi, “Looking”)


AWARDS and PRIZES (selected)

2008 James Joyce Award

2008 Best of the Booker, Midnight’s Children

2007 KBE for contributions to Literature

1995 Whitbread Novel Award, The Moor’s Last Sigh

1995 British Book Awards Author of the Year, The Moor’s Last Sigh

1993 Booker of Bookers, Midnight’s Children, special award celebrating 25 years

1992 Writers’ Guild Award (Best Children’s Book), Heroin and the Sea of Stories

1989 German Author of the Year, The Satanic Verses

1988 Whitbread Novel Award, The Satanic Verses

1984 Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger (France), Shame

1981 James Taint Black Memorial Prize (for fiction), Midnight’s Children, joint winner

1981 English-Speaking Union Award, Midnight’s Children

1981 Booker Prize for Fiction, Midnight’s Children



Midnight’s Children, Shame, The Satanic Verses, The Moor’s Last Sigh, Shalimar The Clown, The Enchantress of Florence, and Joseph Anton



Anthony, Andrew. “How one book ignited a culture war,” The Guardian 10 January 2009. Web. 1 May 2015.

“Iran MPs back Rushdie fatwa,” BBC Online Network 4 October 1998 Published at 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK. Web. 1 May 2015.

British Council Literature. 2011. Web. 25 April 2015.

Heller, Zoë. “The Salman Rushdie Case,” The New York Review of Books. 20 December 2012. Web. 24 April 2015.

Kakutani, Michiko. “Critic’s Notebook; Telling Truth Through Fantasy: Rushdie’s Magic Realism,” The New York Times 24 February 1989. Web. 27 April 2015.

Livings, Jack. “Salman Rushdie: The Art of Fiction No. 186,” Paris Review 2005.

“Looking back at Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses,” The Guardian Friday 14 September 2012. Web. 24 April 2015.

Mayer, Petra. “Dozens Of Writers Join Protest Of Free Speech Award For ‘Charlie Hebdo, ‘The Two-way: Break News from NPR 30 April 2015. Web. 1 May 2015.

Meer, Ameena. “Salman Rushdie,” BOMB 27 Spring 1989. Web. 27 April 2015.

Miller, Max. “How to magic and fantasy help you arrive at realism?” Big Think video 12 November 2010. Web. 27 April 2015.


Richard Perkins is a regular contributor to The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review and a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing Program. He is writing an historical novel and revising a collection of connected stories.


Isabel Allende Llona



            Born: 2 August 1942

            Little known facts:

In 1962 Isabel Allende worked as a translator for romances written by Barbara Cartland—a job she lost ultimately because she injected realistic dialogue and modified endings to reflect women’s independence. “The female protagonists were all retarded. I improved them,             and of course I was fired.” (Mabe)

 “8 January—it is the only day I ever start a new book.” This is the same day she sat down to write to her dying grandfather in 1981 in a letter that in time evolved into the manuscript of her first novel, The House of the Spirits. (de Bertodano)

 Allende had the honor of carrying the Olympic flag at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy in 2006 (World Biography) along with Sophia Loren, Susan Sarandon, Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai, and Cambodian anti-slavery crusader Somaly Mam. (Snodgrass)

Much better known facts:

Her father’s cousin, Chilean president Salvador Allende, who she addressed as Tío, committed suicide in 1973 immediately after giving a farewell address on the radio and rejecting an offer of safe passage out of the country during a right-wing military coup against his Socialist government. (Bio)

The House of the Spirits became an international bestseller and was translated into nearly 40 languages. Some have translated that into “setting Allende on a path to become the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author.” (de Bertodano) Corín Tellado, the highly prolific Spanish writer of romantic novels, may become uneasy upon discovering this, but not any time soon. And Gabriel García Márquez and Lope de Vega are still resting quietly.

Snap Shot

Isabel Allende Llona is a popular, commercially successful Chilean-American novelist. She writes often—but not always—in the magic realism tradition and is considered one of the first successful women novelists from Latin America. Her novels are based in part on her own experiences and immersion in the folklore and history of her culture, often focusing on the involvements and proficiencies of women, weaving myth and realism together often in a realistic geo-political context. Since 1982, she has written nineteen novels, four memoirs, and three young adult novels. She lectures, does book tours, and teaches literature at several US universities. She currently resides in California with her second husband. Isabel Allende became an American citizen in 2003. 

Early Life and Non-Writing Career

Allende was born in August of 1942, in Lima, Peru where her father, Tomás, a Chilean diplomat, and her mother, Francisca (Llona Barros) Allende, had been posted. They divorced when she was three, and she returned with her mother to Santiago, Chile. Allende graduated from a private high school at 16 and began working for the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in Santiago as a secretary. Later, she became a journalist, editor, and advice columnist for Paula magazine and a television interviewer. (World Biography)

The coup unseating Salvador Allende changed the inclination of her world irrevocably. She did not think that the new Pinochet regime would last, but, after several months of receiving death threats, she left Chile for Venezuela with her husband and their two children. Although she had established herself as a journalist in Chile, she had a difficult time finding work in journalism in Venezuela.

Fast forward thirty odd years and overlook her writing career for a moment. Allende is admired today for her community work: the Isabel Allende Foundation cooperates with non-profits in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Chile to “protect, empower, and inspire women and girls.” Allende believes we need feminine energy in the management of the world. (Hip Latina)

Major Relationships

In 1962, she married her first husband, Miguel Frías, an engineering student. “He was the first boy who looked at me, and I clung to him like a crab.” They were together for 25 years and she proudly notes he and his second wife are in the first row of events she is featured in during visits to Chile. Their daughter Paula was born in 1963, and a son, Nicolas, three years later. (de Bertodano) They divorced in Venezuela in June of 1987.

During a lecture tour that ended in San Jose, California, she promoted the publication of Of Love and Shadows and met William Gordon, a lawyer and noir crime novelist in the fall of 1987. He had admired her work and they soon fell in love—in much less than one thousand and one nights. Returning to Venezuela after the book tour, she drew up a marital contract and sent it to “Willie” who subsequently accepted the proposal. They married in 1988, and she has lived with him in their suburban home in Marin, California, ever since with much of their mixed families nearby. (Snodgrass)

Allende describes her husbands as polar opposites: “Willie is a swaggering American lawyer, loud, my first husband is a very quiet passive man, a very good man and he didn’t deserve to marry a person like me.” (de Bertodano)

Writing Career

During her exile in Venezuela, Allende wrote an extended letter to her Tata in 1981 as already described and in the following twelve months, that letter grew into a 500-page manuscript dealing with 500 years of colonial exploitation. Drawing on inspiration from the verse of Pablo Neruda and the fiction of Gabriel García Márquez, she continued to develop The House of the Spirits, her first novel, on her portable Underwood typewriter. In spite of the fact that Latin American cultures had effectively denied the writing profession to women up to that point and under the cloud of her doubts she would be able to get it published, Spirits became popular quickly after she did find a publisher in Spain. The Danish writer and director Bille August adapted Spirits for the screen and it was released in the United States in 1994. Her memories of her family and the political dynamics of Chile are the source material and she weaves the characters and the plot by documenting the personal and political conflicts within three generations of a family in an anonymous Latin American country through the memories of three characters: Esteban and Clara, the patriarch and matriarch of the Trueba family, and Alba, their leftist granddaughter who is captured and tortured during a military coup. (World Biography)

Of Love and Shadows followed Spirits and focuses on the consequences of the switching of two infant girls at birth. One grows up to become the target of a journalist’s investigation, and the exposé of her assassination results in the reporter and photographer going into exile. The Detroit Free Press described Of Love and Shadows as “a frightening, powerful work,” in which Allende “proves her continued capacity for generating excellent fiction.” (World Biography)

Allende’s Eva Luna dealt with a relationship between a scriptwriter and storyteller and an Austrian émigré filmmaker. The novel received positive reviews; for example, Abigail E. Lee in the Times Literary Supplement wrote, “Fears that Isabel Allende might be a `one-book’ writer…ought to be quashed by Eva Luna.… Allende moves between the personal and the political, between realism and fantasy, weaving two exotic coming-of-age stories–Eva Luna’s and Rolfe Carlé’s—into the turbulent coming of age of her unnamed South American country.” (World Biography)

Allende followed in 1991 with The Stories of Eva Luna in which the heroine relates several stories to her lover Carlé. According to Alan Ryan in USA Today , “These stories transport us to a complex world of sensual pleasures, vivid dreams and breathless longings. It is a world in which passions are fierce, motives are profound and deeds have inexorable consequences.” (World Biography)

The Eva Luna stories were followed by The Infinite Plan in 1993 featuring a male protagonist in a North American setting—clearly a departure for Allende. Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times described the novel as a “Bildungsroman-cum-family saga that owes more to Judith Krantz than to Gabriel García Márquez,” concluding that it is “disappointing and mechanical.” Still, as novelist Jane Smiley pointed out in her Boston Globe review, “Not many [émigré authors] have even attempted writing a novel from the point of view of a native of the new country.” (World Biography)

Allende, whose 19 novels have sold more than 57 million copies in 35 languages, received the third annual Lawrence A. Sanders Award for Fiction in a ceremony at Florida International University in North Miami Beach.

“Given her astonishing world-wide appeal and her virtually universal critical acclaim, I think it fair to say that Isabel Allende is the very apotheosis of the awardee we had in mind when the honor was conceived,” says Les Standiford, founding director of the creative writing department at FIU. (Mabe)

Taking Another Look

Despite commercial success and claims by enthusiasts such as this for “virtually universal critical acclaim,” her work has drawn some challenges and some negative criticism. Harold Bloom, in writing the introduction to a volume of critical essays about Allende’s work he edited, said, “I can locate no aesthetic achievement in the immensely popular The House of the Spirits, or in Paula, or in the recent Daughter of Fortune. … Is Isabel Allende truly comparable to Gabriel García Marquez, or are we to seek her peers at a very different level, in the cosmos of supermarket fiction?” (Shipstead)

After publication of Shadows, the Toronto Globe and Mail commented that “Allende has some difficulty in getting her novel started because she has to weave two stories separately, and seems to be relying initially too much on her skills as a journalist.” (World Biography)

Magical Realism

Allende’s first novel The House of the Spirits achieved great exposure in being adapted for film as well as being adapted to the stage. As a consequence it became one of the best-known examples of the genre called magical realism—in spite of presenting some challenges for both adaptions. “What to do, for example, about a male character who shrinks as he ages, a dog the size of a horse, objects that levitate and a plague of ants that overrun a country estate but leave when asked?” (Rohter)

So, it should be no surprise that she has been labeled by some a magical realist author which she says irritates her that the label still follows her. There are those who challenge her as an author approaching the stature of the Latin Boom Four; there are those who challenge her as a magical realist at all, suggesting she is more of a Gothic or Female Gothic writer with a penchant for using historical contexts over a wide range of geography and cultures—some well beyond her South American roots.

Some detractors of Allende suggest her magical realism episodes are borrowed from García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera while others counter that those implausible events in question are recognizable within classical feminist literature like Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Angela Carter’s Wise Children. (Snodgrass)

For those who love her work, find the criticism harsh, and want to blame the translator, Allende has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years and speaks fluent English complete with street vernacular. “She reads her English translations and offers notes on them.” Shipstead says, “it might be time to accept that this style, with all its limitations, is her style.” 


“My father left my mother stranded in Peru with two babies and pregnant, full of debts. Did he say anything? No, he went out to a party and never came back.” (de Bertodano)

“I am a complete feminist. I think it was a reaction against seeing my mother as a victim.” (de Bertodano)

“I have had darkness and tragedy but also a lot of success. I don’t think anyone can go through life without anything happening to them. With me, it just seems to be more exaggerated.” (de Bertodano)


“Latin America’s Scheherazade: Drawing on dreams, myths, and memories, Chilean novelist Isabel Allende weaves fantastical tales in which reality and the absurd intersect.” (González)

Pablo Neruda, the poet, told her that she’d make a better novelist than a reporter. “I think he saw that I was a liar. As a journalist I could not be objective. I would make up stories . . . At the time I was hurt because he said I was the worst journalist.” (Alter)

Allende’s 2013 novel, Maya’s Notebook, was her first to use a contemporary setting. “For such an established and successful author to step outside her bailiwick is a brave move but one that, unfortunately, does not open up exciting new territory. Instead, it yields a book so unconvincing as to raise questions about how many literary sins have been disguised by Allende’s historical settings and shielded by the vague label of magical realism.” (Shipstead)

AWARDS and PRIZES (selected)

1989: Member of the Academy of Language (Chile)

1991: Honorary Doctorate, University of Chile

1996: Honorary Doctorate, Columbia College

2006: Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony (Italy, 2006)

2010: National Prize for Literature (Chile)

2012: Hans Christian Andersen Literary Award in Denmark

2012: Lawrence Sanders Award in Fiction from the Florida International University

2014: Honorary Doctorate, Harvard University

2014: Presidential Medal of Freedom (USA)


The House of the Spirits, 1985; Of Love and Shadows, New York, 1987; Eva Luna, 1988; The Stories of Eva Luna, 1991


Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. Isabel Allende: A Literary Companion. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013.

Alter, Alexandra. “Isabel Allende on Superstition and Memory: A new novel conjures Haiti’s slave uprising and a path to America, “Wall Street Journal 23 April 2010. Web. 3 April 2015.

“Isabel Allende.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 29 March 2015.

de Bertodano, Helena. “The incredible life of Isabel Allende” The Telegraph Online, January 28, 2014. Web. 30 March 2015.

González, Fernando. The Boston Globe Magazine 25 April 1993.

Hip Latina November 25, 2014. Web. 5 April 2015.

“Isabel Allende.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Biography in Context. Web. 29 March 2015.

Mabe, Chauncy. “A Few Words with FIU Honoree Isabel Allende,” (South Florida) Sun Sentinel 29 February 2012. Web. 3 April 2015.

Rohter, Larry. “Staging Latin American Magical Realism, Complete With Songs.” New York Times 17 Feb. 2009: Biography in Context. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

Shipstead, Maggie. “Isabel Allende and the Decline of Magical Realism” New Republic 23 April 2-13. Web. 5 April 2015.

Richard Perkins is a regular contributor to The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review and a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing Program. He is writing an historical novel and revising a collection of connected stories.


 Richard Perkins is a regular contributor to The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review and a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing Program. He is writing an historical novel and revising a collection of connected stories.