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Fiction by Norwegian Women

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Literary Journeys; Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison - Getty Images
Toni Morrison- Photofest

When my husband and I were deciding on names for our daughter-to-be, we had narrowed the list to Sojourner, Zora and Baldwin; people who knew how to wield words in ways that transformed people’s thoughts and actions.  I have been on a wonderful trip since being introduced, as a child, to writers and their work and the audacious idea that I could have access to these literary folk and journey with them for a lifetime.

I first met Toni Morrison 33 years ago, when I was 18 and a freshman at Williams College.  She came to campus to speak to the larger community as well as to my English class of 14 students who had recently read her book Song of Solomon. You can imagine the impression this experience had on a young girl, from West Philly, entertaining the idea that she, too, might want to be a writer. Since that momentous occasion, I have claimed Ms. Morrison and her ideas and truth-telling as something as necessary as love and water and as something I should proactively pursue.  I have seen her and heard her many times. I carried her books with me on my 10-year sojourn to Cote d’Ivoire.  It was while reading Beloved, pregnant and unsure of my capabilities to be a mother in an unfamiliar country, carrying my own history with me, that I decided that my daughter shall be Sojourner.

 Last night, I saw Ms. Morrison, again, at an event, CONVERSATION AND SONG WITH TONI MORRISON, SONIA SANCHEZ AND RITA DOVEhosted at Drexel University, where she and Dove honored Sonia Sanchez and her year of service as Philadelphia’s poet laureate.  Morrison at 82 is still very much the lioness, the raconteur, and the master of deconstructing untruths disguised as the gospel.  She still helps me, at 51, to see through things; to reconsider a point of view.  

Sojourner, now 17 and a high school senior, was excited to share with me last week that she met up again and spoke with one of her favorite poets, Nikki Giovanni, who she first met when she was in fourth grade and  whose poem “ Ego Tripping”  was one of the first poems she committed to heart.  Now a poet herself, Sojourner is on her own literary journey and I hope it is just as nurturing and thrilling a ride for her as it continues to be for me.    
Sojourner and poet Nikki Giovanni

Here is an audio link to Toni Morrison’s 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech.  Enjoy:

* This event was also part of the amazing  2013 First Person Arts Festival . Here is a link to other festival events:

1 comment:

  1. What a feast at Drexel U! Thanks for the history, too, which opened my memories. "Sula" was the book that first grabbed my heart. Way back in the early 80s, I assistant-directed Morrison's play, "Dreaming Emmett," with Gil Moses at Capital Rep in Albany, NY, may he rest in peace. Later, when I was working on my doctorate at UCBerkeley, I asked her if I could stage it, but she felt it wasn't ready--and maybe wasn't comfortable with my vision. I remember Toni Morrison as very gentle, thoughtful and strong. Her writing moves me.