NEW YORK -- Last winter, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison received a phone call from Sen. Barack Obama, then the underdog to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Obama had contacted Morrison to ask for her support. But before they got into politics, the author and the candidate chatted about literature.
“He began to talk to me about one of the books I had written, ‘Song of Solomon,’ and how it had meant a lot to him,” Morrison said in a postelection interview from her office at Princeton University.
“And I had read his first book [‘Dreams From My Father’]. I was astonished by his ability to write, to think, to reflect, to learn and turn a good phrase. I was very impressed. This was not a normal political biography.”
For Morrison and others, the election of Obama matters not because he will be the first black president or because the vast majority of writers usually vote for Democrats. Writers welcome Obama as a peer, a thinker, a man of words -- his own words.
“When I was watching Obama’s acceptance speech [Tuesday night], I was convinced that he had written it himself, and therefore that he was saying things that he actually believed and had considered,” says Jane Smiley, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Thousand Acres” and other fiction. “I find that more convincing in a politician than the usual thing of speaking the words of a raft of hack speechwriters. If he were to lie to us, he would really be betraying his deepest self.”
“Dreams From My Father” and Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” have each sold millions of copies and have been praised as the rare works by politicians that can be read for pleasure. Obama’s student poetry was even lauded -- and compared to Langston Hughes’ work -- by the most discerning of critics, Harold Bloom.