Playing in the Dark

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Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination
Playing in the Dark.jpg
Author Toni Morrison
Country United States
Language English
Series The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in American Studies
Subject Race, American literature, whiteness
Genre Literary criticism
Publisher Harvard University Press
Publication date
May 1992
Pages 110
ISBN 9780674673779

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination is a 1992 work of literary criticism by Toni Morrison.


In 1990, Morrison delivered a series of three lectures at the Massey Lectures at Harvard University; she then adapted the texts to a 91-page book, Playing in the Dark, published in 1992 by Harvard University Press.[1]

Subject matter[edit]

Writing in Signs, Linda Krumholz described Morrison's project as "reread[ing] the American literary canon through an analysis of whiteness to propose the ways that black people were used to establish American identity."[2]

Reviewing Playing in the Dark in The New York Times in 1992, Wendy Steiner said: "The moral and emotional force of [Morrison's] explorations is apparent. If the American identity is formed against this black shadow, it is a sign of abject weakness and a cause for shame....The genius of Ms. Morrison's approach is to enlist those very describers and imaginers—white men of letters—in an investigation that can end only in their self-indictment." But, Steiner added, "it is also not a mere denunciation of white culture. Instead, it is a self-help project meant both to map out new critical territory and to rearrange the territory within."[3]

Michael Eric Dyson observes that in addition to this exploration of the "white literary imagination...Playing in the Dark is also about a black intellectual seizing the interpretive space within a racially ordered hierarchy of cultural criticism. Blacks are usually represented through the lens of white perception rather than the other way around...With [Playing in the Dark], a substantial change is portended."[4]


In 2016, Time magazine noted that Playing in the Dark was among Morrison's most-assigned texts on U.S. college campuses, together with several of her novels and her 1993 Nobel Prize lecture, making her one of the most-assigned of all female writers.[5]


  1. ^ Jimoh, A Yemisi (July 2, 2004). "Toni Morrison: Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination". The Literary Encyclopedia. The Literary Dictionary Company Limited. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  2. ^ Krumholz, Linda (1 January 1996). "Review of Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination". Signs. 22 (1): 243–248. JSTOR 3175058.
  3. ^ Steiner, Wendy (5 April 1992). "The Clearest Eye". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  4. ^ Dyson, Michael Eric (1993). Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism. U of Minnesota Press. p. 181. ISBN 9780816621439. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  5. ^ Johnson, David (February 25, 2016). "These Are the 100 Most-Read Female Writers in College Classes". Time. Retrieved 8 August 2016.

External links[edit]