November 18, 1987 : Magazine : A Public Space

November 18, 1987

Letters James Alan McPherson

november 18
James Alan McPherson to Toni Morrison
November 18, 1987
Toni Morrison Papers, Bx85 f11
Firestone Library, Princeton University
Courtesy of the Estate of James Alan McPherson

November 18, 1987

Dear Toni,

I was in Albany three weeks ago and regret I did not see you. Bill Kennedy said that you were in California. I truly did not know that you were in residence at Albany, but I was glad to see that so many people there think so highly of you.

I have been talking with Leon (“Old Fashioned Negro”) Forrest for the last week or so, and have learned from him some of the irritations you have felt over not being given the “official” recognition that is due you. I regret that large fact that there are so many, many small people in the world. The only solution, I have learned the hard way, is to stand above them. I want you to know that I have always admired your work, and I admire it even more now, now that the dwarfs have become threatened by you.

There is a book I have been reading, and re-reading, during my years in exile here in Iowa. It is a book called The Revolt of the Mass by José Ortega y Gasset. It points the way to the trap black folks have integrated our way into: the more middle-class we become, the more we become like everyone else. We are in obscene danger of becoming mass men (all right, mass “people”) who will attempt to tear down anyone who is beyond us. I learned this hard fact of life when I was in Charlottesville, a great number of years ago. Now, here in Iowa, I have my house, my daughter sometimes, and a very few close friends. That is all I am asking of life.

But I am very much looking forward to your next work.

Who paid for that cup of coffee we had, in a great hurry, when you were here in 1982? Whoever paid for it, I will buy the next cup.

James McPherson
No. 25

No. 25


James Alan McPherson (1943–2016) was the first African American writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, which he was awarded in 1978 for his collection Elbow Room (Atlantic Monthly). He was also the author of a second collection, Hue and Cry (Ecco), as well as the memoir Crabcakes and the essay collection A Region Not Home (both Simon and Schuster).


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