“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
Yes, I can certainly envision Toni Morrison sharing her views on writing at the New York Historical Society, where she spoke recently. But at West Point? Now that’s a bit of a stretch, but that’s exactly where she found herself not too long ago: reading selections from her newest novel, Home, to freshman cadets at the United States Military Academy, who had studied the book in their English classes, along with works by literary luminaries such as Franz Kafka and Sylvia Plath.
How did this come to pass? Lt. Col. Scott Chandler, who directs West Point’s freshman English program, is a fan. And when he read Toni’s new novel about Frank Money, a black Georgia native and Korean War veteran struggling to return to society in a segregated America, he instantly saw that the book touched on many issues related to military life. And that’s how the Nobel Prize-winning author ended up communing with more than 1600 cadets in their dress grays.
“At West Point, we ensure that cadets are made to struggle with moral ambiguity, so that when they confront tangled scenarios, they will be able to do that well,” said Col. Scott Krawczyk, a former Army Ranger and the first English major in the history of the academy. “Morrison gives us just enough psychological complication of Frank Money to open up an understanding of how desperately malignant the realm of war can be.”
How amazing to think of the remarkable journeys that writing can take us on! Toni Morrison lives in a Hudson River town not far from West Point — and yet, she had never visited it until she sat down to read a book to young men and women training for war about the many costs they face. May your writing journey and mine be as rich and deep. Write on.