Tag Archives: Toni Morrison

Writers’ Movement

We don’t need anymore writers as solitary heroes. We need a heroic writers’ movement: assertive, militant, pugnacious.

– Toni Morrison

Love It Hard

“In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. and all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”

― Toni Morrison

Radikal Readings: Jazz

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Again, I chose to put myself in the difficult position of writing about a book by the legendary Toni Morrison. After being taken aback by The Bluest Eye, I decided to tackle Jazz. Set in 1926, the novel “is the story of a triangle of passion, jealousy, murder, and redemption, of sex and spirituality, of slavery and liberation, of country and city, of being male and female, African American, and above all of being human.” Jazz is a about middle-aged Joe Trace, his wife Violet and his teenage lover Dorcas who he also happens to shoot to death.

Jazz is heartbreaking and dazzling, lyrical and poetic. Again, Toni Morrison is an extraordinary writer and storyteller. Her stories are never just black and white, like life there is an exorbitant amount of grey and it’s hard to come to terms with who is “good” and who is “bad”. It’s a dazzling portrayal of human beings, relationships and African American life in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy – where men are worthy of love and black women are expendable.

Much like The Bluest Eye, Jazz is breathtaking and stays with you long after. Here’s one of my favorite poetic passages, which I hope inspires you to pick this one up if you already haven’t:

“It’s nice when grown people whisper to each other under the covers. Their ecstasy is more leaf-sigh than bray and the body is the vehicle, not the point. They reach, grown people, for something beyond, way beyond and way, way down underneath tissue. They are remembering while they whisper the carnival dolls they won and the Baltimore boats they never sailed on. …Breathing and murmuring under covers both of them have washed and hung out on the line, in a bed they chose together and kept together nevermind one leg was propped on a 1916 dictionary, and the mattress, curved like a preacher’s palm asking for witnesses in His name’s sake, enclosed them each and every night and muffled their whispering, old-time love. They are under the covers because they don’t have to look at themselves anymore.”

Radikal Readings: The Bluest Eye

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This is probably one the hardest posts I’ve written in relation to books. What can you say about an author as celebrated and revered as Toni Morrison? The last American writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature, Morrison is a living legend. With all that said, oddly enough I had never read a novel by her. So I thought why not start with the very first – The Bluest Eye published in 1970.

The novel is described as : “…the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves’ garden do not bloom. Pecola’s life does change – in painful, devastating ways.”

It is devastating in every way I can think of. The rich language and poetic prose tells a horrifying yet all too real story of how Pecola is dehumanized for the color of her skin and her appearance. This particular passage is tragic:

“It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question. The master had said, ‘You are ugly people.’ They had looked about themselves saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance. ‘Yes,’ they had said, ‘You are right.’ And they took the ugliness in their hands, threw it as a mantle over them, and went about the world with it.”

Morrison takes us into a world where a million injustices compete. A vicious cycle of self-loathing combined with violent sexual crime and the loss of humanity prove fatal for Pecola and shed light on the unloved in a way I had never encountered. Morrison writes is best in this haunting passage:

“And now when I see her searching the garbage – for what? The thing we assassinated? I talk about how I did not plant the seeds too deeply, how it was the fault of the earth, the land, of our town. I think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. The soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late. At least on the edge of my town, among the garbage and the sunflowers of my town, it’s much, much, much too late.”