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The Hudson River extends like the sun from the back of Toni Morrison’s house, illuminated and infinite, undimmed by an unseasonably drab spring afternoon.

“It’s interesting and soothing, and it changes constantly,” she says from the comfort of a white armchair in her living room. “And at night, with the stars and the moon …”

The Nobel laureate has lived in this converted boathouse since the late 1970s, when she spotted a “For Sale” sign while driving by and soon agreed to pay the then-impractical sum of $120,000. Her commitment was tested, then confirmed, after the house burned down in 1993, destroying everything from private letters to her sons’ report cards. But she had the house rebuilt and upgraded and so enjoys a setting both spacious and personal, with bookcases and paintings, plants and carvings, a patio and private dock.

It’s Saturday and the 81-year-old Morrison is in a relaxed, informal mood, wearing a gray blouse and slacks and dark slippers, a purple bandanna tied over her gray corn rows, her laugh easy and husky with a pinch of “Can-you-believe-this?” You might mistake her for an ordinary neighbor ready for gardening until you see the pictures of her with James Baldwin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Elie Wiesel among others, or learn that the low, wooden table by her chair was a prop from the film version of “Beloved,” her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Morrison does not need to worry about recognition in her lifetime. Nobel judges have honored her, and so has Oprah Winfrey, whose book club picks have helped Morrison’s novels sell millions. A Toni Morrison Society organizes conferences about her work and sponsors a Toni Morrison Book Prize. She not only has written children’s stories, but has been the subject of one, Douglas Century’s “Toni Morrison.” Two presidential contenders, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, sought her support in 2008 and Obama will soon present her with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. Her play “Desdemona,” a collaboration with director Peter Sellars and the Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traore, will be staged in London during the Summer Olympics.

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At Home With Toni Morrison  was originally published on

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