Film: Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
A new documentary on Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison examines the author’s life and works, as well as the themes she has confronted throughout her literary career.
From critic Steve Murray:
Picture me, age 15, poking around Rich’s in downtown Atlanta, on a rare visit to the city from the middle-of-the-woods place where I grew up. Browsing the book department, I must have asked for a recommendation, though I was cripplingly shy. Nevertheless, the saleslady looked at this chubby white gay boy and suggested I might like this one. Demographically, nothing made less sense than what she put in my hand: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. In my shyness, I thanked her, took it to the register, and paid for it with my allowance.
A year later, during my otherwise unexceptional interview for Governor’s Honor’s, one of the teachers asked if I’d read anything I liked. Her surprise at my enthusiasm for Morrison’s book marked a moment, I believe, that changed the course of my life. I got accepted into that summer’s program, met my still-best friend there, and for better or worse entered what was to be a writing life. And a reading one. Song of Solomon was one of those rare books, even before I cracked open my first Gabriel Garcia Marquez, that taught me how a novel can change the way you look at life beyond its pages.
So I was predisposed to like the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, a warm, conversational overview of the work and life of the 1993 Nobel Prize winner, who’s pushing 90 and still gets up before the sun to write in longhand on yellow legal pads. “I’m very, very smart early in the day,” she says with a self-deprecating laugh. Fueled by appreciative talking heads like Hilton Als, Oprah Winfrey, Russell Banks, and Angela Davis, the movie reminds us not only how good Morrison’s writing is, line by line, but how revolutionary her fictional point of view was at the time. One speaker recalls “sympathetic liberal reviewers” who praised Morrison’s early books, but criticized them for their refusal “to brim over” beyond their focus on the stories of black people. — “As though our lives had no depth and no meaning without the white gaze,” Morrison recalls in an archival interview. She refused to bend to that historic literary prejudice toward the Caucasian Canon. And by writing fiercely and honestly about African-American lives, she proved that old adage – that out of the specific comes the universal.
Image: Toni Morrison. ©Timothy Greenfield-Sanders / Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
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