Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am @ The Ross

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It is obvious that Toni Morrison was the main arbiter of the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, The Pieces I Am is more a review of the First Lady of Letters; more at a filmic admiration of her and less, much less, a discovery of anything new about this linguistic engineer of the English language.

I anticipated a documentary with an overview of her usual literary accomplishments, especially her novels, yes, of course, The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, and her Beloved, the latter for which she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. Oh, yes, much on Beloved, accompanied by a film clip from Jonathan Demme’s film of the same name and the story of Margaret Garner, on whom the main character Sethe, played by Oprah Winfrey is based.

I expected her to talk about the emotional swerve she experienced when learning about winning the Nobel Prize. She does. Her tenure as a copy editor and her fight for economic parity working as an African American woman in the white male dominated world of publishing. She does. How she raised her sons Slade and Ford as a divorcee—she does. And the power of language and writing—she does.

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As the film progressed, however, I began to realize that what Greenfield-Sanders presented onscreen was all I was going to get. Any discussion of her novels Tar Baby, Jazz, Paradise, A Mercy, Home, God Help the Child, Love, and most disappointing, some conversation on her children’s books on which she collaborated with her son, Slade and her volumes of essays on topics such as writing, morality and goodness, school integration, race and the imagination … did not make the cut.

The documentary felt muted. I left in a silent anger, a silent anger I am monitoring even as I am recording this review. The Pieces I Am is but a regurgitation, then a distillation of interviews and commentaries past. It has a very present firewall that kept at bay my longing to learn more about our beloved Toni Morrison. You see, I had studied Toni Morrison in college; she was the Major Author I chose for my doctoral comprehensive exam. Even before college, I studied every single note—every jot and tittle about my beloved Toni Morrison.

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All of this I write to make known this: The Pieces I Am is for you, the audience who has a modicum of information about Toni Morrison. It is for you, the audience who has no other knowledge of her other than that she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 and the swirl of controversy surrounding the Nobel from fellow writers.

It is for you, the audience, who curries an interest in literature, writers, black women writers, and Toni Morrison. It is for you and me, the teacher, who needs a teaching tool to situate any of her works for the students. No longer will you need to cherry pick interviews on youtube or print literature—they’re right there for you, for me, for us in Toni Morrison: The Pieces I am

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With these notes, I strongly encourage you to see Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. It is an intellectual, fun overview of our First Lady of Letters. Her friends and colleagues defer reverence for all of her literary achievement and social currency. Friends and colleagues such as Angela Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Fran Lebowitz, poet Sonia Sanchez and Robert Gottlieb—the latter who was her colleague and editor. But the greatest gift in Toni Morrison: The Pieces I am is Toni Morrison … Her presence … She is there in all of her joy.

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