Who deserved a Nobel Prize, Ayn Rand or Toni Morrison?

Toni Morrison got a Nobel Prize, Ayn Rand didn’t, despite being more influential. That wasn’t decisive.

Rand was a smart, serious, thinker; no question about that. (Bio here; profile here.) She wrote The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, which inspired generations of young people to become libertarians. These books were favorites of the Goldwater-activist generation, but won no literary awards, and are shunned in academia.

Morrison (bio here) was smart and thoughtful, too: A college professor, editor, essayist, and novelist. Like Rand, she thought about the world around her, and wrote down her thoughts. Her novel Beloved, about slavery and family and much more, won Pulitzer and Nobel prizes. In some schools, it’s assigned reading.

And some people don’t like that. Glenn Youngkin, the GOP candidate in Virginia’s 2021 election for governor, released an ad “featuring a mother who pushed to have the 1987 novel ‘Beloved’ banned from her son’s English curriculum in Fairfax County, Va. roughly eight years ago,” The Hill reported on Monday, October 25, 2021 (see story here).

The mother, identified as Laura Murphy, wants “to require schools to tell parents if books in their child’s curriculum contained explicit content and allow students to opt-out of reading the material,” The Hill said, adding that Morrison’s novel “tells the story of former slaves after the Civil War and depicts some of the horrors of slavery in graphic detail,” although Murphy’s objection may have been to content that Youngkin referred to as “sexually explicit.”

In a 2013 Washington Post interview, Murphy’s son, a high school student, described the book as “disgusting” and “hard to handle,” without going into detail about why he found it so. The Washington Post article (here) quoted Murphy complaining that the book “depicts scenes of bestiality, gang rape and an infant’s gruesome murder, content she believes could be too intense for teenage readers.”

Should an author shrink from writing about such things, in the context of describing the evils of slavery, if they happened? Should teenage readers be sheltered from the ugliness of the world? Would Murphy object to assigned reading of Elie Weisel’s Night, which describes a Nazi soldier throwing a live Jewish baby into a bonfire, because such realities are too gruesome for tender young minds to know about?

Coming down to the wire, the 2021 Virginia governor’s election has devolved into a debate about schools, curriculum, and banning books. But this essay is about author awards.

So which author is more deserving?

Ayn Rand defended capitalism, which isn’t necessary; Toni Morrison condemned slavery, which is. That should be decisive.

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  1. Mark Adams #

    Comparing Ayn Rand and Toni Morrison is problematic. Maybe both deserved a Nobel. Maybe neither did, but the twos work are not contemporary. Ayn Rand may simply not have won because she was a woman, and that her work was not seen as idealistic. Arguable she could have qualified for the Nobel in economics. Of course Ayn Rand just simply may not have ever been nominated. [Edited comment.]

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    In academia’s view, Morrison’s work is Nobel-worthy, Rand’s is not, so the Nobel committees got it right. Some people may dispute that, but I agree that influential ideas don’t deserve accolades if they’re wrong.

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