On this day in 1977, Toni Morrison’s bestselling novel Song of Solomon was published. The narrative follows Macon “Milkman” Dead III, the son of the richest Black family in his Midwestern town. At a young age, Milkman learns that humans can’t fly and thus becomes uninterested and disillusioned with the people and the world around him. Although he receives the unconditional love of his mother, his aunt Pilate, and other family members, Milkman grows up to be a spoiled and privileged man who takes after his father, a landlord who is driven by greed and wealth. By the time Milkman is 32, he’s aching for something more than the predictable life he leads. Thus begins Milkman’s journey, sparked by the promise of hidden gold and the chance to discover a larger purpose. For some readers and authors, Song of Solomon, which won the 1977 National Book Critics Circle Award, is Morrison’s greatest work. Writing for the Los Angeles Times in 2016, Laila Lalami called it “The Great American Novel.”
Notably, unlike Morrison’s previous novels (1970’s The Bluest Eye; 1973’s Sula), Song of Solomon primarily focuses on the inner lives of men. What was the reason behind this creative choice? Well, according to Morrison, some of it had to do with self-doubt. In a 1977 interview with WTTW’s John Callaway, Morrison said, “Being a woman limited me in some regard. I thought only of certain kinds of art forms that I wanted to be involved in . . . I wanted to be Maria Tallchief most of my life. But that’s why the book is about men. Because when I thought of that idea [flying] I couldn’t use women characters to explicate that idea.”
Morrison goes on to discuss how the book is about both freedom and escape, and how she had never before tried to fully understand and get inside the head of the male consciousness. It’s safe to say that Morrison exceeded expectations.
Recently, it was announced that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom director George C. Wolfe is in negotiations to adapt Song of Solomon as a limited series for Freemantle (American Gods) and Playground Entertainment (Wolf Hall). As of right now, there is no firm release date for the project.
Watch the full interview below.