I. What is a Foreword?
A foreword is a brief introductory piece in a book that is usually written by someone other than then author (but can be written by the author himself). It provides some sort of insight about both the author and the book itself, either through the writer’s personal or professional relationship with the author; or, through the writer’s connection to the topic or field. By writing a foreword, a person gives their endorsement, or support, of the book and its author. So, when choosing the writer for a foreword, an author tries to get the “best” person he or she can to introduce them and their work.
The term foreword comes from the prefix fore, meaning “before” or “in front,” combined with word—so, it literally means “before the word” or “in front of the word.” That makes it easy to remember its purpose: it comes before the main words of a book or other piece of literature! Forewords are found across all genres of literature and for both fiction and nonfiction works; but, a foreword itself is always nonfictional, as it presents real information that reflects upon the author, his work, and the writer of the foreword.
II. Example of a Foreword
Here’s an example of a passage from a foreword for a memoir:
From the first time I met Anna in the first grade, I knew she was going to be a star. She had all the qualities of a high-flying, glamorous celebrity—every story she told was a performance, every outfit was complete with glittering accessories, and every time we parted ways she blew me a lip-smacking kiss accompanied by a supermodel wave. She embodied the superstar image with class, charisma, and most importantly, genuineness. Today, as I write this foreword to her captivating memoir, I share words that I always hoped—and in many ways knew—I would have the chance to write.
Here, the writer introduces the memoir’s author and speaks to their personal relationship. She gives the readers an insightful look at her perception of her famous friend, endorsing the work by sharing that it is something she always knew would be written, and should definitely be read.
III. Importance of Forewords
The most important role of a foreword is to endorse the author and his work. A foreword by a famous or well-known person can really help promote a new book. When written by someone that the public knows (like a specialist in a field or famous author of the same genre), it shows support for the author, and in turn, tells potential readers that the book is worth reading.
IV. Examples of Foreword in Literature
In her first novel, The Bluest Eye, author Toni Morrison wrote a deeply insightful foreword that shares her feelings about the book, its inspiration, and its goals. Here is an excerpt:
The origin of the novel lay in a conversation I had with a childhood friend. We had just started elementary school. She said she wanted blue eyes. I looked around to picture her with them and was violently repealed by what I imagined she would look like if she had her wish. The sorrow in her voice seemed to call for sympathy, and I faked it for her, but, astonished by the desecration she proposed, I “got mad” at her instead.
Morrison shares the very first source of inspiration for her novel, which remarkably reaches all the way back to her elementary school days. It also gives insight to the novel’s title by sharing the story of her friend’s desire to have blue eyes.
For his 1938 novel Kanthapura, writer Raja Rao was asked by his editors to provide a foreword to the book, which is now well-known for its poetic and descriptive quality. Here is a selection:
There is no village in India, however mean, that has not a rich sthala-purana, or legendary history, of its own. Some god or godlike hero has passed by the village – Rama might have rested under this papal-tree, Sita might have dried her clothes, after her bath, on this yellow-stone, or the Mahatma himself, on one of his many pilgrimages through the country, might have slept in this hut, the low one, by the village gate. In this way the past mingles with the present, and the gods mingle with men to make the repertory of your grandmother always bright. One such story from the contemporary annals of my village I have tried to tell.
As you can see, Rao’s writing is personal and insightful, introducing the background of the story that he has “tried to tell” in his book.
V. Examples of Foreword in Pop Culture
For the 2009 new edition release of Maya Angelou’s beloved novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, public personality Oprah Winfrey wrote a very personal foreword. Here is how it begins:
I was fifteen years old when I discovered I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It was a revelation. I had been a voracious reader since the third grade, yet for the first time, here was a story that finally spoke to the heart of me. I was in awe. How could this author, Maya Angelou, have the same life experiences, the same feelings, longings, perceptions, as a poor black girl from Mississippi—as me?
Here, Winfrey shares with readers her first experience with the novel. She shows how it deeply affected her, and how it worked as a “revelation” to her. With her words, Winfrey is encouraging other readers to take the journey with the novel as she did in her youth.
NBA Basketball player Caron Butler’s 2015 autobiography Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA includes a foreword by basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who shares his perceptions of Butler and their relationship both on and off the court:
When we got Caron Butler in a trade prior to the 2002-2003 season, Laker general manager Mitch Kupchak gave him my phone number and Caron called me right away.
“Great to have you,” I told him. “Ready to go to work?”
He was ready. From the moment he stepped on the court at our El Segundo training site, he was totally focused, his competitiveness and no-nonsense attitude evident in everything he was asked to do.
That’s all I needed to see. That’s all I ever need to see from a teammate to appreciate him.
Here, Bryant begins his foreword by immediately showing that his former teammate is someone worth reading about—focused, personable, and hardworking. By getting a very famous player to endorse his story, Butler essentially guaranteed that his book would be read by both of their fans.
VI. Related Terms
A preface is a short excerpt written by the author himself. It usually gives details about how and why the book was written and the purpose of the overall work, and can include other personal words, like thanks and acknowledgements.
An introduction provides explanatory or background information and details that will help the reader better understand the work of literature. It is informative rather than personal, and is generally written by the author himself or the work’s editor.