Want to Own a Beloved Book? Toni Morrison's Book Collection Is for Sale [Updated]

In this Sept. 1987 file photo, author Toni Morrison poses with a copy of her book “Beloved” in New York.
In this Sept. 1987 file photo, author Toni Morrison poses with a copy of her book “Beloved” in New York.
Photo: David Bookstaver, File (AP)
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If you’re an avid reader or writer, you might have three bucket-list-style ambitions in life: 1. to have your own library of over 1,000 books; 2. to write even one book as powerful as the several written by Toni Morrison; 3. to touch even one thing the Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winner touched, hoping an ounce of her brilliance somehow rubs off on you.

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Those first two may be elusive, depending on your space and talent, but the third may actually be a possibility, since Morrison’s 1,200-plus home library is now for sale—along with or separate from the author’s New York City home, which has reportedly been left untouched since her death in 2019, according to Galerie magazine.

When literary legend Toni Morrison died last year, her family left her Tribeca condo intact. Now, the family has tapped Brown Harris Stevens to list Morrison’s three-bedroom residence for $4.75 million. Notably, the Beloved author’s 1,200-plus collection of books is available for purchase in a separate deal, and the family is willing to negotiate on price. (Morrison’s son, Ford, says the trove can be purchased in its entirety or piecemeal.)

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Umm...say what, now? And what exactly does this incredibly large collection include? Gallerie reports the home library was alphabetized by name and pristinely cared for; not a broken spine or dog-ear in sight. It includes numerous tomes “about and by the Obamas and the Clintons, W.E.B DuBois, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Gayl Jones, Henry Dumas, James Baldwin, and Mark Twain.” A copy of The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle is on the shelf, as well as the three books left on Morrison’s bedside table at the time fo her death: Robert A. Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography, David Maraniss’s Barack Obama: The Story, and Stephen King’s Revival (apparently one of several of King’s less-popular works in her collection).

Just like us, the famed author and editor occasionally neglected to return her library books, interestingly enough including a copy of her own debut novel, The Bluest Eye, “with copious notes, underlines, cross-outs on every single page,” reports Gallerie.

Perhaps Morrison kept the aforementioned library book scrawled with notes because she was amazed to find a reader so engaged with every word—although that would not strike many as surprising. Imagine if that reader knew that his or her detailed annotations made it all the way back to the original author.

Speaking of Morrison’s own books, we were momentarily thrilled to hear a “beautiful gold illustrated copy of Song of Solomon” existed, until we realized it likely wasn’t Morrison’s book of the same name but the biblical text. Her copy was bookmarked on Chapter Four—striking, since it’s also reported that Morrison didn’t favor traditional bookmarks, choosing instead random ticket stubs and cards to hold the places in her many volumes.

But if there was one item we, in particular, might covet, it wouldn’t be one of Morrison’s books at all. Instead, we’d love to own one of the several Dewey Decimal catalog library cards corresponding to her novels that she’d framed and kept on display. Why? Because as simple as it seems, it cements the fact that Morrison is part of our American canon, and indisputably a work of art.

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In the market for a piece of Morrison’s legacy? Contact broker Amanda Brainerd.

Updated: Monday, 11/2/20 at 7:05 p.m., ET: One of our industrious readers reached out to Brainerd to inquire about the collection, and while Morrison’s son reportedly told at least one media outlet that the collection is for sale, the broker handling the sale tells a different story—at least about the intended sequence of events. The first priority is to sell Morrison’s apartment, and the purchaser will seemingly have the first right of refusal on the collection as a whole. If that bid is not accepted, then an attempt will be made to sell the collection as a single unit. If that’s unsuccessful, then interested parties can apparently purchase singular items from Morrison’s library. In the meantime, we can dream...

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Illustration for article titled Want to Own a iBeloved/i Book? Toni Morrisons Book Collection Is for Sale [Updated]
Screenshot: D. LaBaw

Updated: Thursday, 11/5/20 at 7:25 a.m., ET: Writer Michelle Sinclair Colman, who thoroughly researched and reported on this story for Galerie, reached out to The Glow Up to clarify some of the confusion around the sale of Morrison’s library—which was seemingly not “misinformation,” as Brainerd’s reply suggested, but a revision of the original listing. In fact, to Colman’s understanding, the collection was initially intended to be sold separately from the apartment itself—that is, until understandably high interest in the collection compelled different considerations.

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“While researching and writing this article, I was told that the entire collection was for sale. Everyone involved knew my intent was to write specifically about the library, not the apartment,” Colman wrote us via email. “But, it seems that the popularity of the article and the number of inquiries Amanda [Brainerd] received was quite overwhelming.”

Accordingly, Brainerd’s brokerage has [since] asked Galerie to add the following to its original article:

“Subsequent to the printing of the article in Galerie, the demand for Ms. Morrison’s books has been overwhelming. The estate is now reevaluating how to handle the future of this important collection.”

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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DISCUSSION

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Selling the apartment makes sense, I suppose. It’s money in the bank. But I can’t believe Harold/the family is selling Ms. Morrison’s books? They seem like such an extension of her?

But perhaps I’m speaking from an impractical sentimentality as someone who never got the chance to meet her and make memories with her personally?

Why not donate them to the archives at Howard or a museum somewhere? Maybe Oprah or the Toni Morrison Society will purchase the collection and keep them together?

All that said, I don’t even care about the specific titles in the collection, I would just love to own any/all of Toni Morrison’s books.