What to watch | Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

If you love her books, you’ll love the woman behind them. Don’t miss this cinematic celebration of the life of this literary giant.

Culture

Amongst all the heavy headlines and uncertainty about the Coronavirus, there is one piece of good news heading our way (thank goodness!) This month marks the release of the highly-anticipated documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am about the iconic novelist’s literary career.

Shedding light on a glittering career

The late great writer, who died last year at the age of 88, needs no introduction. You’ll know her books: Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye and Beloved, of course, but what about her job as fiction editor at Random House, encouraging black writers like Gayl Jones and Angela Davis to explore their own voices, or humanities professor at Princeton and her Pulitzer?

"I made it my business to collect African Americans who were vocal, either politically, or just writing wonderful fiction," she said.

A prolific literary critic and observer, her influence on black writers and books cannot be understated. Her six-decade career (totalling 11 novels, five children’s books, two plays, a song cycle and an opera!) is chronicled by photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, who pulls in a bevy of glittering names to wax lyrical about Morrison, including Oprah Winfrey and Angela Davis.

Championing black voices for black audiences

What Morrison is most enlightening about is the landscape of literary fiction, criticising the tendency of most American writers, black authors included (such as Frederick Douglass and Ralph Ellison) whom she claims wrote mainly for a white audience. If this sounds dry, it’s really not. The Pieces I Am is full of life, humour and humility. When speaking about the white, male world of publishing in the sixties she says: “Navigating a white male world was not threatening, it was not interesting. I was more interesting than them!” We don’t doubt it, Toni!

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is in cinemas nationwide now.

Required reading: 3 classic Toni Morrison novels

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved

This is a masterpiece based in bloody truth. It was inspired by the real-life story of Margaret Garner, a woman who escaped slavery and attempted to kill herself and her children rather than be captured and returned to a plantation. Beloved was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye

Published in 1970, it was Morrison’s debut – a tale about a dark-skinned little girl who believes blue eyes will make her beautiful and cherished.

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

God Help the Child

The subject of colourism is at the centre of this book. It follows Bride, a beautiful dark-skinned woman, whose fairer-skinned mother withholds her love.

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