Friday, July 12, 2019

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
seen @ Film Forum, New York NY

So it was Virginia’s birthday a couple of weeks ago and I was gonna take her rowboating in Central Park. There were thunderstorms in the morning, but then it cleared up and got warmer. Still, she changed her mind about going and suggested a movie instead. I was like, we can go to a movie anytime, but this was what she wanted. Couldn’t refuse her on her birthday—and as it turned out, the film she picked was a winner.

I’ve read some Toni Morrison: I own a copy of The Bluest Eye, and I used to have Beloved. I forget what happened to it. (The Jonathan Demme film version was good, though I remember at the time it kinda freaked me out a bit.) I admit, when it comes to classic black literature, I tend to gravitate more towards the guys: Baldwin, Ellison, Hughes, Wright. The books by black women authors I have are more modern—though now that I think of it, couldn’t Morrison qualify as modern? Not sure. (Also—sorry, sports fans—sometimes I confuse Morrison with Maya Angelou.

Regardless, I’ve always respected Morrison as an Author of Note, but this new documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am made me much more aware of her as a person. According to this Vanity Fair piece, she had known the director, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, since 1981, so it’s quite possible he was the only one who could’ve made this film. A photographer, he has Morrison face the camera directly while all his other interviewees are off-center, a visual distinction that feels more intimate—although he does a ton of jump-cutting in the talking head sections, something I see a lot of in interviews of this sort. I don’t like it.

Morrison discusses her childhood family; her years as an editor at the book publisher Random House and how she attracted a number of black authors; her novels; and her later, hard-won recognition by her wider (whiter, male-r) audience, including her Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes. Other interviewees include Fran Leibowitz, Angela Davis, and of course, the Big O: Oprah Winfrey. In addition, we see a number of beautiful illustrations of black life made specifically for this film, including a series of collages of Morrison in the opening credits.

As a writer, I dug hearing her speak about her craft. I wish she had talked more about it, though I understand why more emphasis was placed on other things, like her career and her place in the black literary canon. I read her work when I was younger, and while I found the florid, intricate writing style a struggle, I could still tell there was something substantial there, something unlike other authors.

Virginia said she had read some of Morrison’s stuff too, though she didn’t think of herself as a huge fan. I think she was more drawn to this film as an example of a powerful and influential woman artist. I wasn’t aware of this film at all, but I am glad I saw it. I still hope I can take Virginia rowboating this summer, though.


  1. I really liked Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Maybe it is time to revisit some of her work. My niece said The Bluest Eyes was one of the saddest novels she has read, so I hesitate in reading it.

    1. From what I recall, it’s sad but deeply insightful and empathetic as well. Never read SONG OF SOLOMON. I might give it a try if my backlog of books wasn’t full already.

  2. I wasn't aware of this film either, but now that I am shall certainly seek it out.

    PS: You'll need a ukulele and learn to sing the 1912 hit Row, Row, Row before you get in the lake!

  3. LOL I already have the ukelele! Virginia would definitely be agreeable to that.


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