Oprah’s Book Club and Toni Morrison

[By Kenton Rambsy]

“Oprah’s Book Club” contributed greatly to helping
well-known and lesser-known black writers gain exposure to mainstream reading
audiences. Founded in September 1996, Winfrey’s book club ran until December
2010, and several different writers were featured on her talk show to discuss
the selected texts. Four of Toni Morrison’s novels were featured as selections
in the book club. Morrison’s sales, as a result, increased substantially. More
significantly, Morrison’s exposure to wider audiences increased.

John K. Young, author of Black
Writers, White Publishers
explains that Winfrey’s ability to consistently
feature Morrison and her work helped to “remake her audiences” for The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), and Paradise
(1997). Accordingly, Morrison’s benefited from Winfrey’s market power and the
interactions between Morrison’s novels and “Oprah’s Book Club” contributed to
redrawing “the lines among art, commodity, publisher, and reader” (132).
Winfrey’s influence on African American literature actually
transcends the selling and buying of novels. In 1998, Winfrey produced a movie
version of Morrison’s Beloved (1987).
Even though the film received mixed reviews, the movie did assist in bringing more
attention to Morrison’s work.  
Winfrey’s ability influence the physical production, medium
of presentation, and advertisement practices of the novels contributed greatly
to how readers gained exposure to Toni Morrison and her novels. Winfrey linked
her brand and, more importantly, her millions of viewers to Morrison’s works,
which raised the novelist’s popular culture recognition and book sales.