Tag Archives: Toni Morrison

Revisiting Sula

I first read Toni Morrison’s Sula when I was 17.  Although I was old enough to appreciate its symbolism and complexity, I could not identify with the themes of judgement, love, loss and survival.  I was 17.  I had not lived, lost and learned that life could hold the darkest of moments.

FullSizeRender (2)Several quotes from Sula remained with me in the 15 years since I’ve read the novel.  Fifteen years have passed and I, an older and (hopefully) wiser woman, now understand the meaning of these quotes more deeply.  I understand that Sula is inherently about life, love, choice and perspective.  As I approach my 32nd birthday, I realize that this novel deserves revisiting, in order to better appreciate these themes.

Here are a few passages that, for me, have stood the test of time:

 

On a dream deferred
“Had she paints, or clay, or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings, had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for. And like an artist with no art form, she became dangerous.”

On letting go:
“It is sheer good fortune to miss somebody long before they leave you.”

On choice:
“When you gone to get married? You need to have some babies. It’ll settle you.’
‘I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.”

On Sadness:
“the loss pressed down on her chest and came up into her throat. it was a fine cry — loud and long — but it had no bottom and no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.”

On love and sacrifice:
“‘Mamma, did you ever love us?’…’What you talkin’ ’bout did I love you girl I stayed alive for you'”

If you’ve read Sula, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the novel.  Are there any novels you read at a young age that now have deeper meaning to you as an adult?

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Filed under Afro-American Lit, For Lovers, Readers and Me

Writing While Black (Words from Toni Morrison)

 

I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don’t know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That’s what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say ‘people,’ that’s what I mean.   

– from Conversations with Toni Morrison

I deeply understand Toni’s frustration.  Writing from one’s own truth/perspective/history is the surest way to resonate with readers from all walks of life.  I myself have felt deeply moved by authors whom I have little in common with – Edith Wharton, George Orwell, Charles Dickens, John Keats, etc.  From their hearts they wrote their stories, not mine.  Yet their words spoke to me, a black girl from Ohio (like Toni), in meaningful ways that still resonate today.  Similarly, Toni Morrison, Richard wright, and countless other black writers do an exceptional job of tapping into their introspective selves to tell their story in a way that resonates with a multitude of readers.  Why, then, are they asked to write “universally”?

Thoughts?

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Magical Realism in Afro-Literature

The death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez marks the passing of yet another literary giant.  His presence will be missed but his words are guaranteed to live on through his work.  In addition to his most well-known novels Love In The Time of Cholera and 100 Years of Solitude, Marquez left a legacy that is synonymous with the literary genre “magical realism” by effortlessly infusing reality with fantasy.

Magical realism incorporates enchanting or other-world elements into otherwise commonplace stories.  Marquez mastered this art and solidified his presence as one of the greats within the genre.  However, he was not the first to utilize this technique.  Magical elements have historically played a role in African and African-Diaspora literature and story telling.  A quick web-search will reveal countless books, articles and academic papers on the subject.  It’s late, so I’ll spare you the history and instead provide a list of my five favorite novels that feature magical realism.

Add your favorites in the comments below.

Image5) Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

A story, depicting the mysterious Miranda “Mama” Day and her niece Ophelia, that takes place in a fictional island off the coast of Georgia.  It’s reminiscent of a Shakespearean novel and depicts the tragedy and sacrifice between lovers.

Image4) Kindred by Octavia Butler

This bewitching tale follows Dana Franklin as she involuntarily travels through time in an attempt to preserve her lineage and ensure her own survival.  It’s a fast-paced historical novel that secures Butler’s role as the mother of modern science fiction and magical realism.

Image3) The Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

The Wizard of the Crow is as entertaining as it is politically astute.  The story surrounds citizens within a fictional African country ruled by an aging dictator.  In this novel I’m not sure which concepts are more absurd – the magical occurrences or the real  current events from which the story is based . . .

Image2) Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is the story of an escaped slave who is haunted by her past.  Not only is it an epic historical fiction novel, Morrison expertly guides the reader in and out of each character’s psychosis until the line between magic and reality is practically invisible.  Don’t let the (horrible) film adaptation deter you from exploring this novel; this isn’t just about slavery just as it isn’t simply a ghost story.

Image1) The Famished Road by Ben Okri

What is it about the country of Nigeria that produces game-changing authors and pioneers in literature?  Not only is The Famished Road laced with realistic-feeling magical elements, Okri’s writing style is purely enchanting.  The first few chapters of the book are so beautifully written that the novel is spell-binding.  Ben Okri writes like no author I have ever encountered. He’s brilliant, no question, but I’m now convinced there’s wizardry involved!

 

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Filed under African Lit, Afro-American Lit

A Conversation with Toni Morrison and Junot Diaz at the NYPL

Did anything notable happen last week? Oh nothing . . . just an event featuring two of my favorite authors held at one of the most beautiful libraries in the USA **insert feigned nonchalant shrug as I try to contain my excitement**

Talk begins approximately 50 minutes into this video.  I die of euphoria at approximately 51 minutes . . .

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Re-Blog: Love It or Hate It

Thanks to @lifeofafemalebibliophile for posting these questions!

Check out her link below: http://lifeofafemalebibliophile.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/book-tag-thursday-love-it-or-hate-it/

1. Biggest literary let-down?

– Toni Morrison’s long awaited comeback: Love, A Mercy, and Home 😦

2. Books that you liked that other people hated?

  • The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett

3. Best Quotes?

Not sure if these are my absolute favorites, but the below (afro-lit) quotes have been on my mind lately:

“This was love: a string of coincidences that gathered significance and became miracles”- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

“Love is like the rain . . . if you’re not careful it will drown you.” – Edwidge, Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory

“Don’t ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.” – Toni Morrison, Jazz

4. Worst Quotes?

Stumped on this one . . . sorry!

5. Books you didn’t finish?

I simply could not get into it…

    • The Kite Runner

***ducks for cover***

6. What book have you read the most times?

Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (3 times . . . and it’s better each time)

7. Series where the first book was amazing but went downhill from there?

I was crazy about the Left Behind series when I was in high school.  I read the first four and then abandoned the brand :-(.  The made-for-tv movies are even worse.

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The Philosopher’s Corner: Metaphysics in Morrison’s “Bluest Eye”

Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father’s baby that the marigolds did not grow. A little examination and much less melancholy would have proved to us that our seeds were not the only ones that did not sprout; nobody’s did…For years I thought my sister was right; it was my fault. I had planted them too far down in the earth. It never occurred to either of us that the earth itself might have been unyielding…What is clear now is that of all that hope, fear, lust, love, and grief, nothing remains but Pecola and the unyielding earth.

            There is nothing more to say—except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.

In these lines, right up front, Toni Morrison links the relationship between Pecola and her father to that of the earth and its yielding (of marigolds). Morrison establishes a metaphysical condition as the underlying condition of each relationship, one in the other. What is more, Morrison is telling us, up front, that analyzing Pecola and her situation existentially—that is, analyzing her situation in terms of concepts such as, “hope, fear, lust, love or grief”; or, the more traditional existential cognates of anguish, abandonment, and despair—is not her primary concern; rather, what is of concern, what remains, is the metaphysical connection between “Pecola and the unyielding earth.” What we are left with is not the psychoanalytic explanation of why any of “this life” occurs—the psyche or ego individuated making sense of the world—but the voice of a child engaged with existence connecting the seemingly disparate elements of life—a little girl and the hard black dirt. “We had dropped our seeds in our own little plot of black dirt just as Pecola’s father had dropped his seeds in his own plot of black dirt. Our innocence and faith were no more productive than his lust or despair.” 

What is left when the traditional ‘existential philosophy’ has failed is the metaphysical question: not why, but how—how does anything, anyone come to be who or what they are?

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10 Great Opening Lines in Afro-Literature

Every great writer knows the importance of the opening text. Not only is it the author’s first shot at engaging the reader, it also sets the tone for the entire novel.  A truly great incipit, as evidenced by the examples below, will also foreshadow theme, structure, plot and even conflict.

Let’s face it, a strong opening is perhaps the best indication of a strong text.  So let’s take a look at a few of the most profound within the Afro-literary genre:

“On the morning of her ninth birthday, the day after Madame Francoise Derbane slapped her, Suzette peed on the rosebushes.” – Lalita Tademy, Cane River

“You better not never tell nobody but God.” – Alice Walker, The Color Purple

“We are on our way to Budapest: Bastard and Chipo and Godknows and Sbho and Stina and me.” – NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names

“A dwelling.” – Nuruddin Farah, From a Crooked Rib

“I was not sorry when my brother died.” – Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions

“124 was spiteful.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

“Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway.” – Zadie Smith, White Teeth

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish aboard.” – Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

“In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry.” – Ben Okri, The Famished Road

“They say it came from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles.” – Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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Filed under African Lit, Afro-American Lit, Afro-Caribbean Lit, Afro-European Lit