May 12, 2013

Short Story Month, Day 12; “Recitatif”

During the month of May, The Missouri Review will highlight a single short story to help celebrate National Short Story Month. We’ve asked a diverse group of readers and writers to participate by sharing a short story that demands to be read. Today’s blog post comes from intern Taylor Stevenson. 

Embarrassing confession: before I read Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” in college, I thought the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning “Toni” was actually “Tony,” and I assumed Tony was a man. To make up for my naïveté, I hereby dedicate this blog post to “Recitatif” and encourage anyone who finds a person unaware of Toni to enlighten him or her immediately.
 
What strikes me most about “Recitatif” is the statement Morrison made about race by never mentioning it. When I first read the story, I was so preoccupied with deciphering each girl’s race that I overlooked the focus, which was actually on economic status. Class was defined; race was ambiguous. For me, the story then became an experience. I was looking for something that wasn’t there and read into race when it wasn’t the point—which I guess was kind of the point. 
 
In an interview, Bill Moyers asked Morrison what she thought when people asked her if she would ever stop writing about race. She answered:
 
“Tolstoy writes about race. All the time. So does Zola. So does James Joyce. Now if anybody can go up to an imaginary James Joyce and say, ‘You write about race all the time. It’s central in your novels. When are you going to write about—what?’ Because, you see, the person who asks that question doesn’t understand that he or she is also race.”
 
Her reply is thought provoking and gets at the root of the story. We are also race. “Recitatif” made me think, question, and reread. It showed me the power of short fiction, and that is what I’m celebrating this month. Happy reading!
 
Taylor Stevenson is an undergraduate English major at the University of Missouri and an intern at The Missouri Review.

About Alison Balaskovits

A. A. Balaskovits is a Ph.D. student in Fiction at the University of Missouri and the curator of the Literature on Lockdown series for The Missouri Review. You can follow her on twitter @aabalaskovits or at aabalaskovits.com

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