This section will introduce the reader to Morrison’s life, within the larger historical situation in which she found herself growing up as a working-class African American woman. While the lives of the privileged few might support the illusion that we are makers of our own life, “the best art is political” (Morrison 1984a, 345), in the sense that it investigates the reciprocal determination of the individual and larger social, political and historical forces. Morrison has always acknowledged the weight of the world on individual lives – the province of “naturalism” in literature – while also affirming personal responsibility, the effectiveness of social critique and the power of the imagination. In her nonfictional writings she has always situated her own life in the context of African American history, and her engagement with aspects of this history in all of her writings, often controversially and with revisionist intent, is a major feature of her work. A full outline of African American history is beyond the scope of this book; this section will sketch out topics and debates in African American history relevant to elucidating Morrison’s work, including political and aesthetic movements. It will interweave this historical narrative and the narrative of Morrison’s life.