Toni Morrison: Pieces I am
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to watch the new documentary dedicated to the life of Toni Morrison. It was a powerful, emotional and gripping piece. I was left in awe of a great thinker, writer, mother and sister.
The film started with Toni Morrison talking about what writing and reading meant to Black people in the South. She told us that her Great Grandfather would boast that he read “the Bible 5 times” as this was a time when Black people were not allowed to read due to laws restricting the literacy of Black people. Reading then was a way of installing pride in Black people as they were banned from doing this. Morrison taught us how the scarcity of reading due to the fact Black people were not allowed to read in the past, gave her and her sister a new found love for reading. I learnt that Morrison had read every single book in her local library. This concept for me really challenged the notion that we have as a society about excellence and the lengths we go to for it. Morrison stated she did this so she could explore different ways of saying the same thing, this gave me a new meaning about what it truly is to be dedicated to excellence. It has even given me a new outlook on life and has broadened the lengths I will go to in order master the field that I am in.
Morrison then went on to talk about her life as a teacher at Howard university, which later led to her becoming an editor for Round House. It was at this role as an editor she took on the notion of ensuring that she wrote books for Black people. Books that did not have the white gaze, books that did not over explain Black life as those who are Black already understand the lifestyle they live. She made it clear that she wanted people to know she was writing for Black people. Her desire to centre that which has been disregarded and seen as unimportant outside of whiteness, shows her commitment to truly being herself. I was able to see Morrison’s outlook and understanding of what it means to be of service to others. Her dedication to serving others was fully reinforced when she stated that she knew “she could not be out in the streets with the activists like Angela Davis and Huey P Newton; but that she would make it her duty to do what she can for the Black movement where she was.” She was the key person behind Angela Davis Autobiography and the works of Muhammad Ali, Bobby Seale, Huey. P Newton. She stated she wanted to ‘help them create pieces that would last forever’. It was such a small act that has had such a profound ripple effect. The novels I am now able to read about Black revolutionaries are something that Toni Morrison helped fashion. Her commitment to ensuring Black narratives are kept alive and centred in such a bold and calculated way has made me develop a new love for Toni Morrison.
The documentary really honed in on the fact that although Toni Morrison is very much loved and appreciated today this was not always the case. When she wrote her first novel Sula a critic stated, ‘that although she was a great writer, she was limiting herself by only writing about Black people’. It is as if for Morrison to be herself and to centre her community’s narratives meant her work would never be valued. Morrison always made it clear that her work was created to validate “Black narratives” that are all to often told from the view of the “white gaze” or not told at all. She made it clear from the start she would be challenging and changing this. Throughout this documentary we are really able to get a true sense of Morrison’s work through her own words, thoughts, feelings and her inspirations. This documentary with Toni Morrison’s voice being at the centre is truly a lasting gift to us all.
The film is still showing in many places around London please click here to find out where you can watch. If you are new to Toni Morrison’s work or an advent reader, I would recommend you watch this Documentary to fully understand this marvellous woman.
By Ife Thompson