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Letters: Feb. 9, 1998

8 minute read
TIME

THE GREAT AMERICAN STORYTELLER

I enjoyed immensely Paul Gray’s article about Toni Morrison and her new novel Paradise [BOOKS, Jan. 19]. Few writers of the modern age have been as masterly, as powerful in the use of the language as she is. But Gray left out an important aspect of Morrison: her role as a teacher. Having had her as a professor and adviser, I can tell you that she is an inspirational force who pushes her students to excel far beyond their own expectations. She is accessible to students and committed to seeing us search within ourselves to find our passion and communicate that passion with grace, confidence and a strong intellectual foundation. To me, she is more than a celebrity; she is a teacher, a mentor who shared her gift and taught me what it really means to write. TALEEB NOORMOHAMED Princeton, N.J.

I take issue with Gray’s statement that Morrison is “the author who almost single-handedly gave African-American women their rightful place in American literature.” That view heedlessly erases the numerous African-American women writers–Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Paule Marshall, Audre Lorde, Ntozake Shange, Octavia Butler and Carolivia Herron among them–who, as Morrison’s sisters, have brilliantly contributed to contemporary African-American letters. THOMAS GRAVE Providence, R.L

Morrison’s power and influence as a writer lie in her ability to appeal to critics and ordinary readers alike. Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo, authors of top 1997 books, are inaccessible to most of the world. Literature is inexorably about life, and so the best literature should speak, on different levels, to everyone as Morrison’s writing does, over and over. Toni Morrison sends us in search of the meanings of love, belonging, ostracism, violence and beauty through stories of black people and, now, raceless people. Thanks for recognizing her as the “Great American Storyteller.” SARAH MILLER New Haven, Conn.

Gray delved into the actual process of writing in a way that few writers do. His assertion that William Faulkner’s “prose rhythms” crop up in Morrison’s writing, however, left me wondering. Morrison won the Nobel. Do we still have to think she needs a role model? JACINDA TOWNSEND New York City

TEENS ON DEATH ROW

The case the prosecution made against accused teenage murderer Shareef Cousin was flimsy, the witnesses uncertain, the evidence insufficient [CRIME, Jan. 19]. It angers me to see a boy just a few years older than I convicted of a horrendous crime while the prosecutors know he may be innocent. Cousin stands in the middle of a blizzard of controversy, screaming for answers, while truth and innocence are lost. Fingers were pointed at a black kid because there was a white victim. Wake up, America! The answers to problems in the judicial system are not on death row. TINGTING PENG, age 14 Lexington, Mass.

We will not have true justice until those who are soft on crime become the victims of the criminals they so blithely excuse. Bad guys (and girls) commit crimes. If they get religion while incarcerated, great! As believers, they should be better able to admit their offense and graciously accept their penalty. BILL STONE Henderson, Nev.

Cousin is obviously much more a victim of police and prosecutorial misconduct than O.J. Simpson ever was, yet where is his Johnnie Cochran, where is his Dream Team? Apparently something transcends race in determining guilt or innocence in the American system of justice. If the money talks, the client walks. SUSAN MANGUM Danville, Calif.

THE PURSUIT OF CLONING

In his commentary Charles Krauthammer claims to have discovered the hidden agenda of scientists who want to pursue cloning technology: the creation of headless human bodies [ESSAY, Jan. 19]. This, he alleges in mock excitement, would be “cloning’s crowning achievement.” I was the main scientist that Krauthammer cast in the role of Dr. Frankenstein. As he reported, I opined that it would be “possible” to produce human bodies without a forebrain and that it would be “legal” to keep such individuals alive. What Krauthammer failed to report was what I also said in a phone conversation with him: the purposeful creation of human bodies without heads would be viewed as repugnant by society, which would not allow it. I believe that while it may be possible to “rationalize” headless humans as a simple combination of separate organs, in our hearts we would still find it unacceptable. The phony specter of headless humans is being used to convince the public that cloning should be banned, even if its purpose is to make cells rather than people. If this view succeeds, future generations will be denied the very real benefits that cloning technology could provide. LEE M SILVER Professor Department of Molecular Biology Princeton University Princeton, N.J.

Human cloning will always be an absolute wrong. To compromise with such an evil is to surrender to it. Without delay, Congress should outlaw it totally and forever, setting exceptionally strong penalties for scientists who violate the ban. We must apply the brake of sanity to genetic engineering’s locomotive. BEN MCKELWAY Plymouth, Mass.

In the years since the discovery of DNA, science has been laboring relentlessly to make Krauthammer’s fears an inevitable possibility. To sound a frantic alarm at this late date smacks of Chicken Little. Let’s get on with it. Let’s figure out how to do cloning rationally and cautiously. In a hundred years, people, or at least our cloned descendants, will wonder what all the fuss was about. GEORGE HILLOW Newport News, VA

Thousands of people die every year because they cannot get a liver, kidney or heart from a donor. Thousands more could regain use of arms or legs from a cloned donor. All medical procedures are unnatural, but that fact alone does not make them immoral. MICHAEL SUNDERMANN Palo Alto, Calif.

Why all the excitement and controversy about the development of headless creatures? For the past decade the managed-health-care industry has been relying exclusively on them. RAY HORWITZ Atlanta

RESTORING STOLEN ART

In his article on the Manhattan district attorney’s seizure of two paintings whose ownership is disputed by descendants of Viennese Jewish families [ART, Jan. 19], Robert Hughes described the “impeccable conduct” of the present Austrian government in dealing with the restoration of art stolen by the Nazis. If this were true, that government would applaud and support the seizure, given Austria’s rather wretched history of restitution over the past decades. Politically inspired or not, the seizure does have a semblance of morality, an aspect of this affair that Hughes dismisses. This action might, at the very least, force all museums to take a good hard look at the history of their collections. MORLEY SAFER Co-Editor and Correspandent CBS News, 60 Minutes New York City

THE PRIVACY OF U.S. MAIL

Your story on the U.S. Postal Service seriously misstated the facts about the sale of mailing lists [BUSINESS, Jan. 19]. The Postal Service does not sell mailing lists or reveal the names of postal customers. It zealously guards the sanctity of the U.S. mail and the privacy of all mailing customers. By law, we are prohibited from making names or addresses available, and we observe the law to the letter. The marketers of goods and services collect and analyze demographic data for their own marketing efforts. It is these marketers who both buy and sell mailing lists of their customers. KATHLEEN C. MACDONOUGH Manager, Media Relations U.S. Postal Service Washington

In my neighborhood, we don’t think the Postal Service is so efficient. We joke that the mail still arrives by burro. Not long ago, it took one of my letters 10 days to go half a mile. Maybe mule train would be better. CINDY BELLINGER Pecos, N.M.

DOBSON’S PROFESSION

In your story on Republican activist Gary Bauer [NATION, Jan. 19], you referred to “radio evangelist Rev. James Dobson.” Dr. Dobson is not a minister. He has a Ph.D. in child development from the University of Southern California, where he served as an associate clinical professor of pediatrics for 14 years. He is now president of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit media organization. CHARLES W. JARVIS Executive Vice President Focus on the Family Colorado Springs, Colo.

DRUGS ARE NO JOKE

I was outraged at the stupidity of the Q&A with Willie Nelson [PEOPLE, Jan. 12] in which he was asked about marijuana use and he joked about being stoned. How much crime has to take place in the name of drugs? How many people are pushed over the edge because of drugs? It’s no joking matter. DOMINIC HOPPS Valley View, Australia

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