Skip to content

La Vinia Delois Jennings’s Toni Morrison and the Idea of Africa

La Vinia Delois Jennings‘s Toni Morrison and the Idea of Africa was first published by Cambridge University Press in 2008 and reprinted in 2009.  A paperback edition was published in 2010.  Jennings’ s Toni Morrison and the Idea of Africa was awarded the 2008 Toni Morrison Society Prize for Best Single-Authored Book on the literary work of the Nobel Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning author.  Her study on Morrison also received the College Language Association’s 2009 Outstanding Scholarship Award.

Toni Morrison’s fiction has been read as a contribution to and critique of Western civilization and Christianity. La Vinia Delois Jennings reveals the fundamental role African traditional religious symbols play in her work. Based on extensive research into West African religions and philosophy, Jennings uncovers and interprets the African themes, images, and cultural resonances in Morrison’s fiction. She shows how symbols brought to the Americas by enslaved West African are used by Morrison in her landscapes, interior spaces, and on the bodies of her characters. Jennings’s analysis of these symbols demonstrate that a West African collective worldview informs both Morrison’s work and contemporary African-American life and culture. This important contribution to Morrison studies will be of great interest to scholars of African-American literature.

“Jennings’s book is unquestionably a bold, compelling and invaluable contribution to the field.  This study undoubtedly confirms her position as an authoritative and engaging Morrison scholar as well as a significant voice in African American cultural debate in general.”  Journal of American Studies.  Janine Bradbury, University of Sheffield. 

 “[A]spects of [Morrison’s] novels that had seemed important but bafflingly elusive in their allusiveness . . . are baffling no more. . . .  Jennings’s evidence is irrefutable.  . . .  [T]his is a work that every student and scholar who wants to understand the novelist should read.”  Slavery and Abolition.  Tessa Roynon, University of Oxford.

“As academics and scholars, we know and understand the academy’s imperative that our scholarship make a lasting contribution to the field; La Vinia Jennings accomplishes this in spectacular fashion.”  Callaloo.  Vanessa K. Valdés, City College of New York.

“Jennings’s meticulous excavations of and close attention to the resonances of West and Central African traditional cosmologies in Morrison’s novels seeks to counter the ‘generalized discussions . . . of things African’ in the Western academy.” MELUS.  Stella Bolaki, University of Glasgow.

“The text is a groundbreaking exploration that may very well be indicative of a sea change occurring in African-American literary criticism.” South Atlantic Review.  Susana M. Morris, Auburn University.

“Research on Africa and African heritage in Morrison’s fiction is excellent.” Choice.  J. M. Wood

“Jennings is adept at portraying African elements in all their rich complexity and demonstrating their function in Morrison’s novels without any sense of reductiveness.”  American Literary Scholarship, Jerome Klinkowitz, University of Northern Iowa

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.