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Eyes on a prize

The contribution of the black woman to American literature is not to be denied. But noting the fact that 48 prominent black writers have signed a ``Statement,'' published on Jan. 24, 1988, in the New York Times, in support of Toni Morrison, one must pause. Morrison received a Book Critics Circle Award in 1977 for ``Song of Solomon.'' She's an editor at Random House. Merle Rubin's Monitor review of Morrison's new novel, ``Beloved,'' called it ``a stunning book and a lasting achievement.''

``Beloved'' could have won the National Book Award for 1987; Larry Heinemann's ``Paco's Story'' did instead. It's still entirely possible ``Beloved'' will win the Pulitzer Prize in April.

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One grants each award panel the right to bestow praise as it sees fit without denying that such decisionmaking is ``political'' in the widest sense. The reaction of the signatories (Gloria Naylor's name was curiously absent; she is a member of the National Book Award panel) is to be expected.

The hard question is, will it strengthen Morrison's chances of getting the Pulitzer, or compromise her case?