Tag Archives: Toni Morrison


Navigating a white male world wasn’t threatening. It wasn’t even interesting. I knew more than them. — Toni Morrison

TONI MORRISON—THE PIECES I AM—the new documentary by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, now in theaters—is a joyous, exhilarating look at the life and work of a great American author, teacher, and editor who has always been happy to be labeled a “black writer,” a “woman writer.”

“I didn’t want to speak for black people. I wanted to speak to, and among…”

And it is shocking, in Greenfield-Sanders documentary, to come across such benighted critical voices as, say, Sara Blackburn’s in 1973, in America’s supposedly liberal newspaper of record:

“Toni Morrison is far too talented to remain only a marvelous recorder of the black side of provincial American life.”*

Removing the white male gaze as the dominant voice is a key element of Morrison’s practice, and she doesn’t hesitate calling out black writers who seemed to write to white audiences. Citing Ralph Ellison, she asks, “The Invisible Man? Invisible to whom?”

As a senior editor at Random House throughout the 1970s, Morrison discovered and championed books by Gayl Jones, Toni Cade Bambara, and Bettie Wysor (author of The Lesbian Myth). She also persuaded Angela Davis—then in her late twenties—to write her autobiography.

“Eventually I learned that the book she wanted to publish was the book I wanted to write… She helped me access my imagination in ways I continue to be grateful for today.” — Angela Davis

Song of Solomon (1977) was Morrison’s first best seller, and five years later she left her editor’s post to devote her time to writing and teaching. She’s professor emeritus at Princeton University, and often told her students, “I know you’ve been told, ‘write what you know.’ I don’t want you to do that. You don’t know anything.”

TONI MORRISON—THE PIECES I AM features interviews with Morrison’s friends and colleagues—Walter Mosley, Farah Griffin, Fran Lebowitz, Paula Giddings, Hilton Als, Sonia Sanchez, editor Robert Gottlieb, and Davis—as well as a rich selection of contemporary artwork by, among others, Mickalene Thomas, Jacob Lawrence, Gordon Parks, David Hammons, and Rashid Johnson.


Tuesday, October 22, at 7:30 pm.

The Landmark

10850 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles.

Wednesday, September 18, at 7:30 pm.

Billy Wilder Theater, Hammer Museum

10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles.

Music Hall

9036 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills.

Downtown Independent

251 South Main Street, Los Angeles.

Arclight Hollywood

6360 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles.

*Sara Blackburn, review of Sula, by Toni Morrison, New York Times, December 30, 1973.

From top: Toni Morrison, photograph from Toni Morrrison—The Pieces I Am; Morrison, photograph courtesy and © Timothy Greenfield-Sanders; Morrison with her sons Ford Morrison (left) and Slade Morrison in 1978, photograph by Jack Mitchell, Getty Images; poster courtesy Magnolia Pictures; Morrison and Greenfield-Sanders, photograph courtesy and © Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Images courtesy and © the author, the photographers, and Magnolia Pictures.


THE FOREIGNER’S HOME mixes footage from the events and exhibitions that took place at the Louvre during Toni Morrison’s guest curatorship in 2006 with present-day clips and interviews.

The documentary’s directors—Rian Brown and Geoff Pingree—will take part in a post-screening Q & A with Caroline Streeter.


Wednesday, January 16, at 7:30 pm.

Hammer Museum

10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles.

From top: Toni Morrison at the Louvre in 2006, image courtesy Rian Brown and Geoff Pingree; poetry slam at the Louvre, 2006.


Ellis Haizlip—black, gay, and deeply invested in the African-American liberation and equality movements of the 1960s and ’70s—was the producer and host of the short-lived but seminal public television show Soul!, which aired from 1968 to 1973. Sui generis in its approach and impact, Haizlip’s Soul! gave black voices an unprecedented platform at a crucial time.

Directors Melissa Haizlip and Sam Pollard have brought the life and work of this catalyst to a new generation with the documentary MR. SOUL!, screening this week at the LA Film Festival in its local premiere.

Included in the film are rare interviews and performances by James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, Harry BelafonteAl Green, Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Odetta, Stokely CarmichaelMerry Clayton, Betty Shabazz, George Faison, Toni Morrison, Patti LaBelle, The Last Poets, and many more.



Wednesday, September 26, at 7:30 pm.

Writers Guild Theater, 135 South Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills.

Above: Ellis Haizlip interviews Melvin Van Peebles in 1971. Soul! director Stan Lathan looks over a camera operator’s head.

Below: Haizlip, Kathleen Cleaver of the Black Panthers, and a Soul! sound engineer.

Photographs © Chester Higgins Jr.


The new interview book by The Paris ReviewWOMEN AT WORK, with an introduction by Ottessa Moshfegh—is limited to 5,000 copies, and is available only through the journal’s website.

Included in the book are interviews with Dorothy ParkerClaudia RankineIsak DinesenSimone de BeauvoirElizabeth BishopMarguerite YourcenarMargaret AtwoodGrace PaleyToni MorrisonJan MorrisJoan Didion, and Hilary Mantel.




Image credit: The Paris Review.



“There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves. People are not, for example, terribly anxious to be equal (equal, after all, to what and to whom?), but they love the idea of being superior….Furthermore, I have met only a very few people—and most of these were not American—who had any real desire to be free….We are controlled here by our confusion, far more than we know.” — James Baldwin, “Down at the Cross,” from The Fire Next Time

 In the late 1970s, James Baldwin began work on a book about three of his friends who had been murdered: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Passages from this unfinished, unpublished manuscript, titled Remember This House, form the basis for I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, Raoul Peck’s masterful, exhilarating documentary on Baldwin, American racism, and our threadbare construct of lies and amnesia implemented daily to forestall national self-immolation.



Now playing.

“Down at the Cross” was originally published as “Letter from a Region in My Mind” in the November 17, 1962 issue of The New Yorker, and is included in the Library of America edition James Baldwin—Collected Essays, edited by Toni Morrison.

Above image credit: Library of America.

Below: James Baldwin in France, 1970.