Few authors are as universally beloved as Toni Morrison, and for good reason. The Lorain, Ohio native dominated the literary scene from the moment she burst onto the stage in 1970, with her debut novel The Bluest Eye. A packed career of novels, poetry, short fiction, children's books, nonfiction and plays followed, along with a stack of awards to boot. A Nobel Prize? A Pulitzer Prize? The first female African American editor in the history of celebrated publishing company Random House? You name it, Toni Morrison has won it and done it. With such an incredible body of work in audio, it can be difficult to know where to begin. For longtime fans of Morrison and newcomers alike, we’ve gathered a selection of some of her greatest. Here are the best Toni Morrison audiobooks to add to your library today.
Where else to begin? Not only is Beloved one of the most, well, beloved pieces of fiction in modern history, it also stands out as an enormously significant piece of African American literature. Arguably the most famous of Morrison's novels, this Pulitzer Prize-winning work positively sparkles in the audiobook format.
Much of that is thanks to Morrison's narration. By lending her voice to Sethe, Denver and the characters she knows better than any other, Morrison is able to imbue this heart-wrenching story with layers of humanity and love, raising what is already a stunning piece of work to new heights. Painful and difficult to listen to at points, Beloved is not an audiobook for the faint of heart—but the most necessary stories are often not the easiest to bear.
On the surface, Beloved is the story of a mother's desperation to keep her children out of slavery, but there are layers to this iconic work that Morrison's narration help reveal. Unsurprisingly, the book has been showered with awards, including the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. The most famous of Toni Morrison's novels may well be her most important.
Morrison's debut novel remains a hugely impactful tale, and it is as affecting to listen to in 2021 as it was heartbreaking to read on release in 1970. The Bluest Eye is set in Morrison's hometown of Lorain, Ohio and follows the tumultuous life of Pecola Breedlove, an African American girl growing up in the shadow of the Great Depression and a country coming to terms with its often wretched past. Pecola's day-to-day existence is a reminder that in America, the past in many ways remains the present.
The Bluest Eye is about so much more than one young black girl's desire for blue eyes. Toni Morrison's ability to weave magic out of strife is well-documented, and it’s a skill that shines in this listen. Morrison's very first novel is undoubtedly one of her best, which is a testament to her immense talent and powerful voice.
Unsurprisingly, The Bluest Eye is a revelation in audiobook form. Morrison's familiarity with her characters shimmers through the story, making an incredible listen out of one of the 20th century's best books. So, if you're unsure where to start with the long and storied legacy of Toni Morrison, why not start at the very beginning?
Song of Solomon is no ordinary audiobook, but then Macon "Milkman" Dead III is no ordinary main character. Undoubtedly one of Toni Morrison's finest works, Song of Solomon is a coming-of-age story like few that came before it and none that have surfaced since, an arresting tale of African American society throughout the generations. Morrison's third novel was the first to bring her serious widespread critical acclaim, and it won't come as a shock to hear that it positively shines as an audiobook.
Again, Toni Morrison's narration has a lot to do with that. Her vivid description of the Black American experience is an exercise in an elite literary imagination, and it is difficult to imagine a better narrator than the author herself. Song of Solomon develops from a curious listen into one that is positively pause-resistant.
Morrison details the development of Milkman in Michigan, although this is as much a story of African American identity and place as it is the man born in the shadow of death. Yes, this stunning listen is a story of an individual, but it is just as much a deep dive into American history and cultural identity. It is an absolute must-listen.
Another classic in the Toni Morrison catalogue, Sula is packed with symbolism and significance from beginning to end. The relationship highs and lows experienced by Nel Wright and Sula Pearce in and out of their home in Bottom unfold in dazzling form, with Morrison once more proving to be a revelation behind the microphone. Morrison's second novel is a stunning tale that keeps listeners gripped from the first minute to the last.
Sula covers many of the themes that are prevalent throughout much of Morrison's work, such as the complexity of motherhood, African American identity and what it means to be who you are, where you are and when you are. The juxtapositions experienced by the Black and white communities in and around the fictional town of Medallion, Ohio areas jolting today as they were when Sula was first published way back in 1973.
Make no mistake about it, Sula is a complex listen. The audiobook touches on a wide variety of themes, most notably the emotional tightrope that is friendship in adolescence, while also touching on fate, society and the age-old tale of good and evil. A complex listen, yes, but it also happens to be a tremendous one at that.
Such was Toni Morrison's reputation that 2015's God Help the Child received a book of the year buzz before it was even released. Morrison's final novel was a gorgeous mixture of the past and the present, tackling the usual Morrison themes but doing so in a modern context. It all comes together for a slightly different experience, but one no less thrilling than the body of work that preceded it.
God Help the Child tells the story of Bride, a girl with blue-black skin who is neglected by the light-skinned parents who are ashamed of her, a girl who grows to become a head-turning beauty that finds tumult and complexity at every turn. The twists and turns of the tale are emotionally exhausting in the best possible way, proving if any proof was required that Toni Morrison was a genius to the very end.
The emotional aspects of the story shine brightest in this audiobook version, again narrated by Toni Morrison herself. Her performance here could well be her finest, the pain and strife of Bride's story flourishing in joy as much as it does struggle in sadness. It is an incredible listen and a mighty accessible one too, clocking in at just under six hours.
Toni Morrison's work often explores themes of identity that have been robbed of context and basis. Many of her central characters find themselves violently uprooted from notions of home and forced into new existences, almost always against their will. 2008's A Mercy explores this theme in great depth, peeling back the rotten surface of slavery to reveal stories of mothers, daughters, wives and the rest.
A rural farm in New York provides the central setting of A Mercy, as various characters struggle to come to terms with their new circumstances. The dynamic between Florens, Rebekka and Jacob Vaark sits at the heart of A Mercy, but this is as much about the roots of racism and sexism as it is the dynamic between three people. As such, A Mercy is a stunning listen that teaches as much as it engages.
Toni Morrison's work as narrator on this audiobook version of A Mercy is another triumph. Morrison weaves between the main characters with style and depth, allowing the listener to get swept up in the trials and tribulations of 17th century America. Undoubtedly one of the best Toni Morrison books (not to mention a staple of book clubs the world over), A Mercy also happens to be one of the finest listens in the Audible library.
The many loves of deceased hotel owner Bill Cosey find themselves at the centre of Love, Toni Morrison's eighth novel (published in 2008). Once again narrated by Morrison, this audiobook shows the author's ability to draw parallels between different narratives and differing characters, creating a story that is complex and endearing in equal measure.
All true, of course, but the title of this audiobook suggests something a little more universal at its heart. Love is a haunting story told by multiple different women, a non-linear piece of American fiction that jumps back and forth between generations with ease, as much at home detailing the desires of a young woman as it is the regrets of the old.
Love also reprises concepts of otherworldly guides, an idea most famously put to use with the eponymous character in Morrison's iconic Beloved. Throw in a healthy dose of unrequited love and you've got yourself an audiobook that reveals more about the heart's most passionate emotion than most. An apt title for a gorgeous listen.
Primarily set in Harlem in the 1920s, Toni Morrison's 1992 novel Jazz nonetheless dips its toes into the storied pasts of its many characters, eventually reaching as far back as the 19th century in the American south. Jazz is typically Morrison-esque in its ambition, breathing thrilling new life into the very genre of historical fiction.
Considered the second in Morrison's famous trilogy on African-American history (bookended by 1987's Beloved and 1997's Paradise), Jazz traces its steps until the influence of slavery on Harlem's jazz scene is clear for all to see. Unravelling a tale of love, murder, deception and understanding this must-listen might just be Toni Morrison at her very peak.
One year after the publication of Jazz, Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, ostensibly for a body of work that this fantastic story is a central part of. Morrison once again shines as narrator, filling the many characters of Jazz with fresh life and vigour. If you're unsure what to listen to after finishing Beloved, look no further than Jazz.
Frank Money is a 24-year-old African American veteran of the Korean War, but there is a lot more to Toni Morrison's tenth novel than the simple story of returning home after conflict. Home is a story of realization and redemption told through a most kaleidoscopic lens, as Money struggles with self-loathing and self-worth in a society that shows less cohesiveness than the army he has left. What follows is another typically tremendous Morrison story, cementing the Nobel Prize winner's status as a 20th-century icon of international storytelling and American literature.
In many ways, Home is something of a departure for Morrison, focusing instead on a single character in a fairly linear battle as opposed to multiple arcs throughout multiple times. What follows is undoubtedly one of the best Toni Morrison books and a quite stunning audiobook, narrated to the usual quality by the author herself. Home shows once again that there is often no finer narrator for a story than the genius who put it together in the first place.
The word in which Frank Money finds himself is arguably more chaotic and toxic than the one he has left behind. Money discovers that the chaos of the Korean War provided more solace than the theoretical calm of peacetime, but he soon embarks on a journey of self-discovery that will bring hope to even the most cynical of listeners.
Much of Morrison's work can be categorized as a unique hybrid of fiction and nonfiction, where stories are told through characters informed by very real historical events. It shouldn't come as a shock to hear that Toni Morrison also excelled in the world of nonfiction, best exemplified by The Source of Self-Regard, a stunning collection of essays and meditations that take a cleaver to the issues of society in that inimitable Morrison style.
Many of Morrison's speeches are included in The Source of Self-Regard, powerful orations that were written to be listened to as opposed to read. American voice, stage and screen actor Bahni Turpin takes control of the narration here and delivers Morrison's words with power and poise, paying great respect to one of the 20th century's most iconic artists.
The Source of Self-Regard is a breathtaking listen and an absolute must for fans of Morrison's work and newcomers alike, covering everything from human rights to detailed comments on her novels, from Beloved to God Help the Child to Paradise to Tar Baby and all the rest. This is a call to action from a most enchanting source of inspiration.